An implant consisting of bone 'scaffolding' containing stem cells can promote bone healing in patients who have undergone foot and ankle operations, a new report shows.

The report is "first review of implantation of Trinity Multipotential Cellular Bone Matrix as a viable bone matrix product containing adult stem cells in humans," lead researcher Dr. Shannon M. Rush told Reuters Health.

This treatment can be used instead of taking bone from another site in a patient, "as a bone void fill or bone growth stimulator," Rush said.

Rush, at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Mountain View, California, reported his team's findings this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons in Washington, DC. The study is also reported in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery for March.

The researchers used the bone-matrix/stem-cell product in 23 patients who had operations involving foot and ankle bones and that failed to knit. Medical conditions often associated with "non-union" of bones, such as diabetes and kidney disease, were common among the study group.

Bone union and healing was achieved in 21 of the 23 patients, to the extent that they were able to walk in regular shoes with little or no pain 6 months or more after cast removal.

"We observed new bone formation at the implant site as early as four weeks in some cases," Rush said, and there was "no graft rejection by the host."

While the findings are encouraging, Rush said that they need to be confirmed with a formal clinical trial. "It is our hope to conduct this in the near future."