A team from NDCS discovers – for the first time – the ability of neutrophils in promoting bone and blood vessel formation in vitro in their preliminary study. The success of this study will have a great impact on the field of bone tissue engineering.

  • Neutrophils, the most abundant white blood cells in the human blood, has the ability to enhance blood vessel and bone formation
  • NDCS team was first in the world to make this discovery
  • Using neutrophils for bone and tissue engineering can be easier and safer for patients

A preliminary study conducted by Dr Thanuja Herath and her team (Dr. Goh Bee Tin; NDCS, Prof. Swee Hin Teoh, NTU, Dr. Anis Larbi; SIgN, ASTAR and Prof. Kirkpatrick; Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany) uncovered the ability of neutrophils in enhancing blood vessel and bone formation in vitro (in an artificial environment, such as within a glass).

Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cells in the human blood. Its major function is to defend the body against infiltrating pathogens as a part of the immune system.

Other than its immune function, neutrophils were thought to play an important role in the formation of blood vessel and promotion of bone defect healing.

The team established a new triple-cell co-culture system – consisting of endothelial cells, osteoblasts and neutrophils – to study the effect of neutrophils on blood vessel and bone formation in vitro.

They are seeking to enhance bone regeneration by promoting early growth of microvasculature (the smallest blood vessels in a body) in a bone defect.

“If this strategy is proven feasible, it will be highly impactful to the field of bone tissue engineering. It could be applied clinically to the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery, craniofacial surgery and orthopedic surgery,” said Dr Thanuja.

Today, the repair and regeneration of critical-sized bone defects remain a major challenge for clinicians. The use of autologous bones (bones derived from the same individual) is currently considered to be the gold standard among other treatment options.

While there are many advantages of using autologous bones, there are major drawbacks in the harvesting procedure.

For instance, the extra surgery involved in harvesting autologous bones can cause morbidity at the donor site. Moreover, the amount of bone that can be collected is limited. Researchers have been looking for viable alternatives for the last decades in view of these deficiencies.

With positive results generated from the in vitro data, the team is hoping to identify the possible effects of neutrophils on blood vessel and bone formation in vivo (within a living organism) next.

If similar results can be observed in the in vivo study, this can open up a new avenue for bone tissue engineering with the use of autologous neutrophils for bone transplantation, potentially minimising the post adverse effect of bone surgeries.


Dr Thanuja Herath, Research Fellow at NDCS, has won two awards for this research paper titled ‘Neutrophils Enhance Angiogenesis and Osteogenesis in Triple Cell Co-Culture Model’.  She won NDCS’ Young Investigator Award and the Best Paper Award in ‘Tissue Engineering’ research category at the 29th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) South East Asia Division.