Surgeons in Germany say they used stem cells from a 7-year-old girl's fat to help repair severe damage to her skull, apparently the first time that bone has been generated in a...

Share story

Surgeons in Germany say they used stem cells from a 7-year-old girl’s fat to help repair severe damage to her skull, apparently the first time that bone has been generated in a person by using the fat-derived cells.

One expert called the work a landmark and said he considered it the first indication that any kind of stem cell had been harnessed to regenerate bone in a human.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

He and others cautioned, however, that the report falls short of proving that the stem cells produced the new bone.

The new work, reported in the December issue of the Journal of Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery, is an example of using so-called “adult” stem cells, as opposed to the more controversial “embryonic” stem cells that are recovered from early embryos. Adult stem cells are found in bone marrow and elsewhere, and scientists hope to use their transforming ability to create replacement tissues for treating disease.

Some scientists say stem cells from fat might be particularly useful because they are abundant and readily accessible.

In August, other German doctors reported growing a jaw bone in a man’s back muscle and transplanting it to his mouth to replace bone lost to cancer surgery. Bone marrow was used to help grow the bone, but it’s not clear whether stem cells in the marrow were responsible for the bone growth.

So Roy Ogle of the University of Virginia, an expert in skull reconstructive surgery, said he considers the new report to be the first he knows of that indicates any kind of stem cell had been used to grow bone in a human.

“It is a very big deal,” said Ogle, who called the study a landmark.

He agreed that the study didn’t prove that stem cells provided the new bone. But it also indicates that the implanted cells did no harm, which has been a concern with using stem cells in people, he said.