Glass implant envisioned to promote leg, arm bone repairs

Bioactive glass implant materials to help repair injured bones--Courtesy of Missouri S&T

Researchers built a bioactive glass implant they believe can help repair injured leg, arm, and other weight-bearing bones. If clinical testing succeeds, the technological advance could upend the current practice of using metal implants or bone grafts from cadavers.

A team at the Missouri University of Science and Technology developed the prototype; the July issue of the journal Acta Biomaterialia details their work.

The researchers' silicate glass "scaffolding" (known as 13-93) is bioactive--a device that converts into bonelike material when placed in living tissue. As they explain, they implanted it in rats and documented two crucial things: quick bonding to bone and the promotion of new bone growth in about 6 weeks.

Their finding builds on previous research that determined the glass scaffolds can support walking, lifting or other repetitive movements. The initial research involved using the scaffolding in rats' skullcaps--not a load-bearing bone. Based on those results, scientists believe they'll produce equally encouraging results in tests now under way involving rats' leg bones.

More work is needed here, to be sure. And positive results in animal testing can't always be repeated in people. But the team's work could produce a big advance in the current standard of care. As the researchers themselves note, porous metal implants or bone allografts from cadavers are among the main methods of treatment right now for load-carrying bones. But metal implants don't always work, they explain. Cadaver implants carry risks, too, and both options can be pricey.

"Right now, there is no synthetic material that is practical for structural bone repair," lead researcher Mohamed Rahaman, a professor of materials science and engineering, said in a statement.

Still, the researchers see their creation as something that could be cost-effective and safer--something that would have real mileage in a healthcare climate where quality and cost-cutting are becoming synonymous. And their work, if it continues to advance, will likely draw serious attention from the medical device industry down the line.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract