Growing Bone : Scientists Succeed in Lab

It was one of the first medical observations: that human bone is one of the few tissues that can regrow after injury. Hippocrates knew it and hoped that somehow that power could be harnessed for healing.

Now, 2,400 years later, reports from commercial and university laboratories suggest that scientists have finally begun to do just that -- to grow bones and cartilage virtually at will.

''This is exciting because we are mimicking the natural process of development,'' said Dr. A. Hari Reddi, a professor of biology and orthopedics at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore who has worked on bone growth for more than 30 years. ''We are following the same steps that occur in the first weeks after conception.''

The success is one of several in the new field of tissue engineering, the growing of spare parts for the human body. The new power to grow human tissues and organs is a result of years of basic research followed by rapid progress in molecular biology and genetic engineering. Among the tissues now successfully grown, at least in the laboratory, are skin, bone, cartilage, liver, kidney and teeth. This has been made possible through the identification of substances that control different types of tissue growth.

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