Artificial bone scaffold combines stem cells and plastic to heal broken bones

February 11, 2013

Scanning electron microscope image (g) of a vertical cross-section of a plastic scaffold shows porous channel formation between 50–600 microns length. Arrows in magnified area (highlighted in (g)) in ( h)  indicate sub-micron pores. (Credit: Ferdous Khan et al./Advanced Functional Materials)

To improve bone healing, researchers at Edinburgh and Southampton universities have used a honeycomb scaffold structure, which allows blood to flow through it, enabling stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow to attach to the material and grow new bone.

Proteins from skeletal stem cells cultured on a plastic scaffold (credit: Ferdous Khan et al./Advanced Functional Materials)

Over time, the plastic slowly degrades as the implant is replaced by newly grown bone.

The researchers used a pioneering technique to blend and test hundreds of combinations of plastics to find the perfect blend of materials that was robust, lightweight, and able to support bone stem cells.

After getting successful results in the lab and in animal testing,  the research is now moving towards human clinical evaluation.

“We are confident that this material could soon be helping to improve the quality of life for patients with severe bone injuries, and will help maintain the health of an aging population,” said Professor Mark Bradley of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry.

The study was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.