A research team has created an artificial bone that could be used to heal shattered limbs. Researchers from the University of Southampton and Edinburgh University have used stem cells and a degradable plastic to create a rigid material that can be inserted into broken bones, encouraging the real bone to re-grow.Scientists developed the material by blending three different types of plastics. They used a pioneering technique to combine and test hundreds of combinations of plastics, to find a blend that was robust, lightweight, and able to support bone stem cells. The degradable material was generated using solvent blending, an automatic process that sees hundreds of natural and synthetic polymers mixed and tested to get the right combination of strength and flexibility. The team has developed the artificial bone into a honeycomb-shaped scaffold structure that allows blood to flow through it, enabling stem cells from the patient's bone marrow to attach to the material and grow new bone. Over time, the plastic then slowly degrades and the implant is replaced by newly grown bone. The team is hoping to begin human tests after successful results in the laboratory and in research using animals during a seven-year study, which has been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Tissue Regeneration Systems Inc. is in the business of using a biodegradable polymer mesh to grow new bone and replace the titanium implants now in use. This University of Michigan spinoff hopes to be in the market late next year or in 2015. TRS uses a biodegradable polyester polymer called polycaprolactone to serve as spinal implants, to mend cracks or fill in voids in broken bones, to repair broken orbital sockets and for facial reconstruction. The polymer is formed as a mesh and coated with growth factors that encourage a patient's own bone to grow over and through the mesh. As the bone grows, the polymer eventually dissolves. No replacement of TRS material would be needed in children because by the time they had grown, it would have dissolved. Company officials expect FDA approval by the end of the year.