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The University of Southampton

Transforming people's lives through bone stem cell therapy

University of Southampton researchers have developed a unique approach linking nano-bioengineering and stem cell research which could transform treatment for 4,000 UK patients each year and reduce a huge cost burden on the NHS. Seven patients with avascular necrosis of the femoral head and bone cysts have been successfully treated with bone stem cell therapy resulting in a better quality of life.

Research Challenge

Among the challenges posed by our ageing population is the need for novel and cost-effective approaches to skeletal reconstruction. One in three women and one in five men are at risk of osteoporotic fractures worldwide. In the UK, more than 50,000 primary hip replacements are performed each year costing £250 million. This is set to rise to 65,000 by 2026. 


For the 30-50% of men and women requiring revision surgery after hip replacement operations many will need subsequent bone augmentation. Current practice is usually to use donor bone. However this is costly, dependent on availability and commonly leads to complications including infection and immunological rejection.

Our Solution

Work pioneered by our researchers demonstrated the practicability of using patients’ own bone stem cells together with a biocompatible scaffold to create a ‘living bone composite’, essentially regrowing a patient’s own bone.

Through collaboration we discovered how to control cell adhesion and were able to induce hard tissue to form directly onto an implant as opposed to around the current prosthesis which often leads to the need for revision surgery. Our team went on to create a commercially viable gel which is easily made and stably combines with DNA, proteins or peptides.

What was the impact?

Southampton researchers have transformed understanding of the role of nanotopography in stem cell function and developed protocols from human tissues. We have moved the application of bone stem cells from bench to clinic addressing areas of unmet need such as the 4,000 people diagnosed with avascular necrosis each year.

This body of work has exciting potential for patient care and the manufacture of components and was consequently cited by Nature Materials as a landmark paper for the last 10 years. It has also received significant attention from national media including The Engineer and Sky News.

Nano-bioengineering and stem cells are being used to transform treatments for bone disease and fractures
Fabricating surfaces for stem cells

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