A team of scientists from the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Research Institute announced Monday the generation of patient-specific bone substitutes from skin cells capable of repairing large bone defects.

The process was done using skin cells the scientists reverted from adult cells into an embryonic-like state, which then induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells carrying the same genetic information as the patient and capable of becoming any of the body’s cell types.

The researchers then guided the iPS cells into becoming bone-forming progenitors they then seeded onto a scaffold for three-dimensional bone formation.

Next, the researchers placed the constructs into a device called a bioreactor, which provided nutrients, removed waste and stimulated maturation.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represents a major advance in personalized reconstructive treatments, according to a press release issued by the institute.

“Bone is more than a hard mineral composite, it is an active organ that constantly remodels,” Darja Marolt, one of the study’s lead authors, said. “Blood vessels shuttle important nutrients to healthy cells and remove waste; nerves provide connection to the brain; and bone marrow cells form new blood and immune cells.”

The advance is seen as a significant step toward the development of customizable, three-dimensional bone grafts built to match the exact needs and immune profile of each patient.

While previous studies have demonstrated the potential of other cell sources to form bones, bone marrow stem cells, for example, can form the one and cartilaginous tissue but not the underlying vasculature and nerve compartments. Furthermore, bones derived from embryonic stem cells have the possibility of immune rejection.

For this reason, the group chose to work with iPS cells, comparing iPS sources with embryonic stem cells as well as bone marrow-derived cells.

“No other research group has published work on creating fully-viable, functional, three-dimensional bone substitutes from human iPS cells,” said team member Giuseppe Maria de Peppo. “These results bring us closer to achieving our ultimate goal, to develop the most promising treatments for patients.”

Furture steps, according to the scientists, include protocol optimization and the successful growth of blood vessels within the bone

As Susan L. Solomon, CEO of NYSCF said, “This is not a good approach, it is the best approach to repair devastating damage or defects.”