How sound waves could help regrow bones


Researchers have used sound waves to transform stem cells into bone cells, in an advance in tissue engineering that could one day help patients regrow bone lost to cancer or degenerative disease.

RMIT researchers’ innovative stem cell therapy offers a smart path to overcoming some of the field’s biggest challenges, using the precision power of high-frequency sound waves.

Tissue engineering is an emerging field that aims to rebuild bones and muscles by harnessing the human body’s natural ability to heal itself.

A key challenge in bone regeneration is the need for large amounts of bone cells that will thrive and thrive once implanted in the target area.

To date, experimental processes for transforming adult stem cells into bone cells have used complicated and expensive equipment and struggled with mass production, making widespread clinical application unrealistic.

Additionally, the few clinical trials to regrow bone have extensively used stem cells extracted from a patient’s bone marrow – a very painful procedure.

In a new study published in the journal Smallthe RMIT research team showed that stem cells treated with high-frequency sound waves quickly and efficiently transformed into bone cells.

Importantly, the treatment was effective on multiple cell types, including fat-derived stem cells, which are far less painful to extract from a patient.

Co-lead researcher Dr Amy Gelmi said the new approach was faster and easier than other methods.

“The sound waves cut several days off the processing time usually needed for stem cells to start transforming into bone cells,” said Gelmi, a vice-chancellor researcher at RMIT.

“This method also does not require special ‘bone inducer’ drugs and it is very easy to apply to stem cells.

“Our study revealed that this new approach has great potential for use in processing stem cells, before embedding them on an implant or injecting them directly into the body for tissue engineering.”

The high-frequency sound waves used in stem cell therapy were generated on a low-cost microchip device developed by RMIT.

Emeritus Professor Leslie Yeo, Co-Principal Investigator, and his team have spent more than a decade studying the interaction of sound waves at frequencies above 10 MHz with different materials.

The sound wave generating device they developed can be used to precisely manipulate cells, fluids or materials.

“We can use sound waves to apply just the right amount of pressure to the right places on stem cells, to trigger the process of change,” Yeo said.

“Our device is cheap and simple to use, so it could easily be scaled up to process large numbers of cells simultaneously – vital for efficient tissue engineering.”

The next stage of research is to investigate methods to extend the platform, working to develop practical bioreactors to drive efficient stem cell differentiation.

Reference: Ambattu LA, Gelmi A, Yeo LY. High-frequency, short-duration nanomechanostimulation in the megahertz range results in early and persistent osteogenic differentiation in mesenchymal stem cells. Small. 2022:2106823. doi: 10.1002/smll.202106823

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