Remember the old song, “Dry Bones,” in which “the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone”?
For injured athletes, soon that knee bone may be connected by a cow bone.
Advances in medicine have created an increased demand for surgical supplies, including glue, bone screws, collagen and artificial skin.
That demand has increased the use of xenografts – the use of animal products, including cow bones, to repair the human body.
One use of bovine bone is the production of screws used to repair a common athletic injury – a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.
That’s good news at the Prather Ranch in California, according to a recent online news report, “Wired.”
Now, along with $20 per pound New York steaks, the Prather Ranch sells the inedible parts of the cow -- pituitary glands, bones, heart muscles and hides -- for medical supplies.
Those products often bring the Prather Ranch more profit than the beef, rancher Jim Rickerts said in the article. Rickerts also remarked on the satisfaction and ethics of using the complete animal, calling it “a moral thing.”
Hard times brought the good times to the Prather Ranch. When commodity beef prices forced them to scale back in 1975, they limited their herd, and have not introduced any animals since.
That, plus the cattle’s strict vegetarian diet, ensured the animals have not been exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called mad-cow disease, which appeared in the 1980s, the story said.
So, things looked up for the Prather Ranch when they were contacted by a company looking for a safe source of cowhides for collagen used in the current fad of lip injections.
Today, the ranch sells products for xenografts to several medical and pharmaceutical companies, including Regeneration Technologies, a company that produces implants for spinal, knee and other surgeries, using cow bones.
At Mid-Nebraska Therapy and Sports Center in North Platte, physical therapist Grant Schramm said he was familiar with xenografts, which include using collegen, and pigskin for skin grafts, but had no experience with screws made of bovine bone.
“We see plenty of patients, but I have not seen anything of that nature yet,” Schramm said.
To reduce the risk of disease and rejection by the human body’s immune system, a special cleansing procedure ensures that no living material remains in the bovine bone, Wired reported. The threaded screws are generally made from bovine metatarsals, the small bones of the cow’s feet.
If the screws are bovine bone, often they are so absorbed by the body that they are undetectable months later, the article said.
The use of bovine bone is still relatively new, and a random survey of orthopaedic and sports clinics in the North Platte and Kearney areas turned up no use of xenograft screws to date.