The future is well and truly here. EpiBone, a US-based startup, is trying to grow human bones. Recovery in bone fractures is a slow and painful process, and bone grafts from another body run the risk of rejection or disease. EpiBone attempts growing personalised bones in the lab using the patient’s own cells.
EpiBone can grow a patient’s own bones, from her own cells, in the exact shape and size required, using stem cells and a special type of incubator. First, a CT scan is taken of the patient’s damaged bone, and a 3D model is created. This model is used to prepare an animal bone into the exact shape of the graft that is required to be implanted. Then, stem cells, taken from the fat cells of the patient, are isolated. These stem cells are placed into a bioreactor with the animal bone so that they grow around the bone, engulfing it. This new bone is then implanted into the patient. It is capable of growing and merging with the bone around it. As the new bone is composed from the body’s own cells, it would have higher acceptance as compared to foreign materials.
However, the technique may take a few years before it can be available to the public. So far, EpiBone has tested it only on animals. Before it can be tested on humans, the process would require approval from the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) authorities, which may take time. Second, as per present information, the EpiBone grafts could cost three to four times the traditional grafts. But the potential in the technique is immense and could change the way bone surgeries are done in future.
Epibone’s founder Nina Tandon, 36, grew up in New York and developed love for science through her parents. She has an MS in biomedical engineering from MIT and a PhD and executive MBA from Columbia University. She considers Gordana Vunjak-Novakovik, under whom she conducted research for her PhD, one of her greatest mentors. According to Nina, Gordana encouraged her to grow and taught her nothing is out of reach – to be a risk taker.
In 2010, Nina started the idea of creating personalised bone grafts for patients. Along with co-founders Sarindr Bhumiratana and Elisa Cimetta, she sent out a business plan to BioAccelerate NYC, a New York based investment fund, which gave her a grant in 2011. EpiBone was incorporated in 2013 and has since received funding from several donors including the Thiel Foundation.
In 2015, EpiBone was named among the 49 startups as technology pioneers by the World Economic Forum (WEF). As a result, it bagged the coveted invitation to participate in the WEF meeting held at Davos, Switzerland in January 2016.
Apart from being a passionate scientist and entrepreneur, Nina is also a running enthusiast and a qualified yoga instructor.