Polymer-Blend Material Aims to Mend Broken Bones

Bad bone breaks may no longer need a metal pin or plate to help them heal, if Spanish researchers’ medical idea comes to fruition.bone fracture

The materials engineers from the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country are developing a biodegradable polymer, infused with bioglass, that could help bones heal without needing additional surgical procedures, reports CORDIS News. For example, metal pins or braces need to be removed once the bone they helped mend has healed. In contrast, the polymer material would render the need for a second operation redundant.

The research team — led by Jose Ramon Sarasua and Aitor Larranaga — are trying to find the right composition by synthesizing and shaping tailor-made bioimplants that are based on the biodegradable polymer. CORDIS News explains further how the research is being conducted:

This material was chosen for its ability to gradually disappear as the bone occupies its own place. The polymer was found to be too soft, so bioglass was added. Bioglass is a bioactive agent that helps the bone to regenerate, and gives the polymer tough mechanical properties. This means that the biodegradable polymer/bioglass composite system is stiffer and tougher than the polymer alone.

The idea to use a polymer to help broken bones heal is being developed in other places too. For example, an Israeli company has developed a polymer membrane that wraps around broken bones and then helps stimulate bone growth.

The polymer-blend material from the Spanish researchers can be made from thermoplastic processes under heat. Just how that material responds to different temperatures is one of the goals of the research.

The biodegradable polymer/bioglass composite material has a lower thermal stability than the materials without bioglass, the researchers found. The latter material, when grafted into the body, often encouraged the formation of byproducts that could be harmful to healthy tissue, the researchers found. Bioglass, made with silica, sodium, calcium or phosphorus, is known for its ability to bind with soft tissue and bone.

Therefore, the researchers are focusing on improving the thermal stability of the bioglass composites. The researchers published a finding in the journal, Polymer Degradation and Stability, that plasma helps produce a chemical transformation of the bioglass surface.

The change helps create a protective layer to prevent any reaction to the polymer material, ensuring that the final product remains undamaged. “These composites that have a biodegradable polymer base are candidates with a bright future in mending broken bones or in regenerating bone defects,” Sarasua says.

Source: “Using bioglass to mend bones,” CORDIS News, 4/4/13
Image by Bill Rhodes.

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