Imagine listening to your favorite song and swaying your body uncontrollably to the beat. There is an expression for this sensation, and it is appropriate: you can feel the music in your bones.
It turns out there is East an element of truth in the sentence.
According to a new study published in the scientific journal Small, a team of researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have used high-frequency sound waves to treat bone injuries and diseases – a potentially revolutionary treatment. The trick is to find stem cells – that is, generalized cells that can be transformed into more specialized cells – and then bombard them with these sound waves. When the researchers did this the right way, these stem cells turned into bone cells. Significantly, they did this even when the stem cells were derived from fat, where they can be extracted much less painfully than by bone marrow. Previous attempts to grow bone with stem cells used bone marrow.
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“High-frequency sound waves generate pressure that pushes through stem cells,” Dr. Amy Gelmi, co-principal investigator and vice-chancellor’s researcher at RMIT, told Salon via email. “It is this ‘push’ force that triggers the stem cells’ journey to transform into bone cells. Stem cells are very sensitive to the physical forces around them, and we have found that the force exerted by our sound waves at high frequency was ideal in ‘convincing’ the stem cells to turn into bone quickly and efficiently.”
The research could have many practical applications. One of the main challenges in regenerating lost bone tissue is ensuring that it creates bone with adequate structural strength. This approach could make that possible.
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“We plan to start using the device to ‘condition’ stem cells so they are ready to grow into bone cells, and then try several ways to grow bone tissue implants,” Gelmi explained. “For example, like loading the packaged stem cells into ‘bio-ink’ and 3D printing a shape for the stem cells to grow and create bone tissue.”
This is not the first important work to be done with high frequency sound waves, that is, those with frequencies above 10 megahertz. In 2020, RMIT researchers detailed a number of potential applications for the technology, ranging from delivering drugs more efficiently to human lungs to helping the body target infections and tumors more precisely. They have already been used to help create tumor-selective drug molecules and in ultrasound procedures that provide detailed images of the body.
Speaking to News Medical Life Sciences at the time, Professor Leslie Yeo explained that “we have harnessed the power of these sound waves to develop innovative biomedical technologies and synthesize advanced materials. But our discoveries have also changed our understanding foundation of ultrasound chemistry – and revealed how little we know about it.”
Yeo added, “Trying to explain the science of what we see and then applying it to solve practical problems is an important and exciting challenge.”
Does this mean that all research into high-frequency sound waves has implications for people who feel a deep physical connection to certain types of sound, such as music?
“May be!” Gelmi told Salon. “The stem cells that reside in our bodies (we all have them!) respond to physical sensations as well as biochemical signals. We learn every day how important it is to use these physical forces in tissue engineering. “
Gelmi added, “Also, I think lab work always goes more smoothly when you’re vibrating to a really good playlist.”
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