Coating hip implants and bone grafts with a new polymer could lead to a better and speedier recovery for patients, scientists believe. Developed by biomedical engineers at the University of Glasgow, the technique can help stimulate “growth factors” – molecules that help the body to regenerate. It would see hip implants and bone grafts coated in a thin layer of the polymer to encourage quicker fusing. A growth factor molecule known as BMP-2 has been used in such treatments for several years to help encourage bone regrowth but large doses can cause harmful side-effects.
Researchers from the university’s Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology and School of Engineering found a unique property of the polymer poly(ethyl acrylate) allows growth factors to be effective at doses around 300 times lower than currently possible, reducing the risk of side-effects and the potential cost of treatment. Matthew Dalby, professor of cell engineering, said: “In itself, the polymer we’re using seems fairly unremarkable but we’ve discovered that it has enormous potential for clinical applications. “The ease in which the polymer can be used to do something very biologically complex is extraordinary and mimics the way growth factors are used naturally in the body. “The polymer facilitates a reaction with fibronectin, a protein which binds growth factors to allow the body to regenerate. In the body, in tissues, fibronectin is opened up by cells to allow growth factors to attach and allow regeneration to begin. “In the BMP-2 therapy currently in use, growth factor uptake is limited because they are not presented in a biomimetic way but rather delivered in soluble form in high quantities. Our polymer helps fibronectin act as it does normally within the body.”
The research paper has been published in Science Advances. Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, the university’s chair of biomedical engineering, said: “This technique opens up the possibility of making growth factor treatments much more effective and much more affordable. “By coating materials such as hip implants, bone grafts or spinal cages in a thin layer of this polymer, we can encourage bone regeneration targeted on the areas where they’re required. Bone is the second most commonly grafted material in medicine after blood, which means there are many potential applications for this process. For example, people who have suffered injuries in car accidents, or lost significant areas of bone during cancer treatments, could well be treated more effectively. “We hope that the first human trial could be under way in the next five years."