With MSC and notch signaling, can bone and tissue healing be accelerated?
"That's a great question," responds Hankenson. "We don't yet have a good sense of what the acceleration possibility is with this therapy.
"Biological systems have temporal limitations. Likely, it can only go so fast. This therapy may be best for clinical situations where healing is compromised because of missing bone or [loss of blood vessels to tissue]."
But Hankenson believes it could accelerate healing. While Penn's work with Notch signaling is largely in vitro, "we have [mouse model] studies supporting its role in promoting bone formation. But we're still some years away from viable clinical therapy."
Would it have helped Barbaro? "Remember, he had severe compound fracture of his lower leg. His bones were healing well. "But," replies the researcher, "he succumbed to contralateral limb overload laminitis. If we can promote more robust healing of fractured bones by using a biological therapeutic, we could perhaps prevent that laminitis."
Hankenson and a former student, Dr. Mike Dishowitz, have formed a start-up biotechnology company that's developing this therapy for human and animal applications.