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Bone Morphogenic Protein Side Effects

By Dr. Shavon Jackson-Michel, ND

Bone morphogenic proteins are novel surgical materials being used in the field of orthopedics. These proteins, however, are not new and are actually synthesized from substances natural to the body. Bone morphogenic proteins belong to a group of chemicals in the body known as growth factors. Surgically, they are synthesized to assist with bone fusion and nutraceutically, they are being concentrated from natural sources to rebuild and strengthen osteoporotic bones. Although increasingly being sought after, their immense growth potential can produce side effects and possible complications that are concerning.

Swelling

A 2004 “Growth Factors” journal notes that bone morphogenic proteins occur naturally as the transforming growth factor beta family and are crucial to heart, nerve, cartilage and bone formation and growth in the body. The synthetic version of this protein, known as rh-BMP-2, is used to effectively enhance the fusion of the lumbar, or lower spine. As with any surgery, swelling is expected and often accounted for; however, swelling as a side effect of using the rh-BMP-2 protein in the cervical spine, where its use is only currently investigational, can have devastating outcomes. The 2007 “Spine” journal cautions the use of bone morphogenic protein for cervical fusions, as it may cause respiratory distress and painful swallowing due to intense neck swelling.

Ectopic Bone Growth

Bone growth stimulated by bone morphogenic proteins is noted in the 2004 “Growth Factors” journal as a process of auto-induction. The action of the body stimulating its own bone growth was put into application in the 80s after the ability to isolate, purify and then synthesize these proteins from bovine sources became evident. The automatic generation of new bone tissue is a side effect of potential concern, according to a 2010 “Journal Sentinel” article. The approved use of this substance only accounts for about 15 percent of its use, with other off-label uses comprising awhopping 85 percent. The off-label use is of concern because the “Journal Sentinel” notes that confirmed cases of ectopic bone growth or the generation of new bone outside of its desired area has caused neurological damage in some people. In the cases described, ectopic bone growth was undesirably found within the spinal canal.

Stimulate Cancer Growth

Cancer is the disease that most strikes fear in the minds of people. In this day and age, many people are trying to adjust their lifestyles to decrease as many known carcinogenic, or cancer-causing agents, as they can. However, while the use of bone morphogenic proteins has not conclusively initiated cancer growth in anyone, it is a potential side effect of great concern, notes the “Journal Sentinel.” The 2010 article notes that while capitalizing on rh-BMP-2 ability to stimulate the growth of new bone, its thriving ability to stimulate growth of many different types of tissues can be troublesome. In fact, the article notes that slightly more patients who had received rh-BMP-2 in an orthopedic surgery developed cancer, as compared to the control group. These numbers were not considered high enough to be significant, but as cancer is deemed a multifactorial disease, the authors note that it may be a variable to keep in mind.

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