The Grapevine

Injectable Bones? Scientists Create Foamlike Material To Replace Bone Implants

Doctors may soon ditch the painful methods to fix broken bones or the lengthy procedures to regain bone health after serious injuries. Researchers have developed a foamlike substance that can be injected into the body to provide scaffolding for the growth of new bone.

The team from the University of British Columbia and McMaster University created the new bone implant material using nanocrystals from plant cellulose. They described the product as a strong, lightweight sponge capable of being compressed or expanded to completely fill a bone cavity, EurekAlert reported Tuesday

"Most bone graft or implants are made of hard, brittle ceramic that doesn't always conform to the shape of the hole, and those gaps can lead to poor growth of the bone and implant failure," Daniel Osorio, study author and a PhD student in chemical engineering at McMaster, said. "We created this cellulose nanocrystal aerogel as a more effective alternative to these synthetic materials."

Osorio’s team tested the bone implant with two groups of mice in the laboratory. The first group received the foam implants, while the other group had none. 

The results, published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, showed that those who had the implants experienced 33 percent more bone growth three weeks after the procedure. The progress increased to 50 percent over the next 12 weeks.

It is the first time a cellulose nanocrystal aerogel was found capable to support new bone growth, according to study co-author Emily Cranston, a professor of wood science and chemical and biological engineering who holds the President's Excellence Chair in Forest Bio-products at UBC. She also noted that once the bone starts to heal, the implanted material breaks down into non-toxic components in the body.

The researchers expect the injectable bone implant to be used for a number of applications, including dental implants and spinal and joint replacement surgeries.

Study co-author Kathryn Grandfield, a professor of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering at McMaster, said the material would offer a cheap procedure as nanocellulose is already being produced for other commercial products. 

However, she noted that they have yet to conduct further studies in the lab before offering the new bone substiute to clinics. Grandfield said her team plans to analyze how the implant supported bone growth and how the material would degrade using advanced microscopes. 

“After that, more biological testing will be required before it is ready for clinical trials," the researcher added.