Broken Bones Mended with Degradable Plastic and Stem Cells

Scientists used a polymer blend of three plastics, natural and man-made, in a procedure called 'solvent blending' to create a scaffolding that is strong enough to replace bone, but hospitable to stem cell growth. The material was the result of a seven-year collaboration between the Universities of Edinburgh and Southampton, where researchers created and tried hundreds of combinations before settling on one that was robust, lightweight, and able to support stem cells, Medical News Today reported.

When inserted into bone, blood can still flow through the scaffold, and stem cells from the patient's bone marrow will attach themselves to it. As the bone regrows, the mold, which is formed in a honeycomb pattern, slowly degrades.

Bone tissue frequently needs to be regenerated after trauma where significant damage may have been inflicted. Fractures and bone loss are significant problems in an aging population. The most common bone disease, for instance, is osteoporosis, which weakens bones and makes them susceptible to breakage.

This advance comes on the heels of a paper published last June, in which scientists have found that using stem cells from fat tissue produces better-quality bone than other methods, eliminating the need for painful bone grafts. The best grafts come from the patient themselves, but the patient may not have much bone to spare, and the quality may be low. On the other hand, stem cells from fat are plentiful (plus, easy to access via liposuction) and when purified in a certain way, propogate bone growth better and more quickly than culturing.

These two techniques could theoretically be used together to improve the current treatment of broken bones.

"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 ageing population," Mark Bradley, a professor at the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry and co-author of the paper, told Medical News Today. Their research was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Co-author Richard Oreffo, Professor of Musculoskeletal Science at the University of Southampton said that his and Bradley's strategy, which elegantly combines chemistry and medicine, "offers significant therapeutic implications."

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