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Making Synthetic Bones More Natural

written by: AlyssaAst•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 6/30/2011

Synthetic bones are needed when bone loss has occurred due to age, injury, infection or disease. The use of synthetic bones is rapidly changing as new research has developed more natural synthetic bones.

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    A new technique offers new hope for people who must undergo artificial bone transplants by creating bones that mimic natural bones. In previous years, researchers mimicked natural bones with metal, and even wood-like products, but the latest research allows artificial bones to be made more naturally and function better than the previous synthetic bones. These new bones are hoped to produce more positive results with the natural regeneration process than the synthetic bones presently available.

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    Synthetic Bones

    Unfortunately, human bones don’t last forever. Injuries, infections, diseases and age contribute to the loss of bones, which often results in pain, discomfort and even loss of mobility. Over the years, artificial structures have been developed to use in place of missing bone segments. Most often, the artificial structures used consist of metal alloys, which allow patients to live as normal of a life as possible. New technology has increased the natural functions and abilities of the artificial structures, creating an enhancement of benefits for those who receive the bone replacements.

    These new synthetic bones behave more naturally, and the body accepts these new methods with a lessened risk for rejection. Although the new methods aren’t flawless, they certainly provide options for those in need of synthetic bone. The new materials used are nearly identical to the materials natural bones consist of, allowing the bones to function as true bones.

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    Making Bones More Natural

    Korean researchers have developed a method to make artificial bones more natural by combining two separate techniques. Previous methods involved producing cancellous bone, which consists of a honeycombed structure. However, it lacks the cortical bone, which is the hard, strong tissue of the outer layers of bone. The need for cortical bone is necessary because it contains canals that allows the nutrients needed for bone formation to flow freely. However, the cortical bone is less porous than the cancellous bone.

    To create the synthetic bone, a method called electrospinning is used to wrap polymer-biomaterials around a 0.3 diameter bundle of steel wires. The steel wires used are drawn together by electrical charges, which are then used to cover a scaffold of cancellous bone. The structure is composed of zirconia and biphasic calcium phosphate, which produces a sponge-like replica. Upon completion, the steel wires are removed, resulting in an interconnection of the structures that largely mimics human bones.

    It’s estimated this new synthetic bone structure is 70 percent similar to natural bone, with a high strength and porosity level. Tests conducted on the new bone showed it has a high level of biocompatibility, which is essential for use in humans. Due to the rapid aging process, bone loss and fractures are a worldwide concern. This new method to stimulate bone regeneration offers a new hope for the future. But, before this new bone can actually be used in humans, further testing is needed.

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    Additional Research

    Researchers around the world are studying other methods and materials that can be used to make synthetic bones. These methods include the use of wood, sea ice and even Styrofoam. Researchers at the Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics in Italy are experimenting with wood to create synthetic bone. The wood is heated, and then calcium and oxygen are added before the wood is heated once again with a phosphate solution. This has proven to be strong enough to replace bone, and it’s currently being tested in sheep.

    Engineers in Germany made an amazing breakthrough with the use of Styrofoam. Using standard titanium implants, the engineers formed the structure around a matrix of polyurethane foam. After the matrix was heated off of the structure, the titanium transformed into a porous lacelike web. As a result, the engineers were left with a more realistic and flexible bone. The engineers have had such success with this method, manufacturing of the synthetic bone is expected soon.

    Another method to create synthetic bone is with the use of sea ice. Scientists have discovered that when a calcium sludge is frozen into porous layers, and then the water is extracted, the results are a lightweight calcium scaffold. This scaffold is very similar to the hard structure of abalone shells. Currently, this new method is awaiting the testing and approval of the FDA.

    The technology to make synthetic bones more natural is transforming each year. As new methods to make these bones are discovered, a wide variety of treatment options become a reality for many people suffering from bone loss and bone disease. With the new methods that are more similar to natural bone, the risk for rejection or failure decreases for patients needing the synthetic bone.

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    References:

    "New technique makes artificial bones more natural" http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-06-technique-artificial-bones-natural.html

    "Nature Suggests a Promising Strategy for Artificial Bones" http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/jan2006/nidcr-27.htm

    "Artificial Bones Made from Surprising Materials" http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/05/st_bonematerials/

    "Artificial Bones" http://www.ele.uri.edu/courses/ele282/F05/Zack_1.pdf