A new type of bandage has been developed that can rebuild broken bones by transplanting bone-forming proteins and stem cells directly onto fractures.
The biomaterial, which can be stuck to a fracture 'like a plaster' to accelerate healing, has been tested successfully on mice's skulls.
After rebuilding bits of broken bone, the biodegradable bandage – which is two to three times the thickness of human hair – is absorbed by the body without any adverse side effects.
It is hoped that, following clinical trials, the 'bone bandage' could change how broken bones are treated in hospitals and reduce infections from serious open fracture injuries.
Researchers have successfully tested the biomaterial on mice in the lab. Bone defects are on the calvaria, the top part of the skull.
'Our technology is the first to engineer a bone-like tissue from human bone stem cells in the lab within one week, and successfully transplant it in the bone defect to initiate and accelerate bone repair,' said Dr Shukry Habib, from King's College London.
'The bandages are thin, and flexible, so they can be positioned and attached in a very minimally invasive way.'
Clinical trials are planned for the bone bandages and scientists plan to develop the concept further to improve healing in other organs and tissues.
'The concept of the 3D-engineered tissue and the bandage has the potential to be developed to different injured tissues and organs,' said Dr Habib.
The bandage itself is made from a polymer called polycaprolactone, which is already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in medicine and dentistry.
The team have developed two types of bandage that both improve bone repair – both with and without stem cells.
The biomaterial is coated in a protein called 'Wnt3a' that is used throughout the body for growth and repair
'Wnt3a is part of a family of similar proteins that are found all over the body, and are involved in the growth and repair of many organs and tissues,' Dr Habib told MailOnline.
'In the biomaterial bandage alone, new bone is grown directly underneath when the bandage is attached over the top.'
In the second version, which is even more effective, human stem cells from bone marrow are grown in a 3D gel before transplantation, which form layers of cells similar to the cells found in bone.
Images of skull bone defects in mice with no bandage (top left) and transplanted protein bandage (top middle) and protein bandage cultured with human skeletal stem cells and overlaid with gel