One of the most critical components of building, healing and remodeling bone in humans is a process called osteoinduction. In the 1960s, Dr. Marshall Urist discovered a family of substances in human blood and bones that stimulates the process of osteoinduction in his research at UCLA. He called these substances “bone morphogenetic proteins,” or BMPs. In the past 15 years, research has progressed and we can now isolate and extract these substances from natural tissues as well as produce them in laboratories. BMPs have been used to stimulate the production of bone in animals and humans.
In spine surgery, especially during spinal fusions, surgeons may opt to use transplanted bone grafts to aid in the healing and remodeling of the spine after surgery. The use of bone grafts can add increased postoperative pain, if the bone is transplanted from one area of the patient’s body to another (called autograft), or a chance of disease transmission if the bone is transplanted from one person to another (called allograft).
Researchers are studying BMP and rhBMP (BMP that is produced in a laboratory) to determine if they could replace these bone grafts. Current research is also focusing on the most safe and effective method of introducing the substance into the different areas of the spine, experimenting with novel carriers and substitutes that will provide for successful bone formation.