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A framework for growing bone

A promising new material could help encourage damaged or broken bones to grow back.

If you've ever broken a bone, you know what a pain the healing process can be. You may end up wearing a cast for weeks, aching and itching as you wait for the fractured bone to get better.

In cases of severe bone damage, surgeons sometimes take bone from one part of the body and use it for repairs in other parts. Thanks to the wonders of bone biology, the procedure works, but it can be painful and expensive.

Cross section of a healed piece of rat's skull.</p><p><p>

Cross section of a healed piece of rat's skull.

Hubbell et al./Nature Biotechnology

Now, scientists have invented a promising new material that could help encourage bones to grow back without many of the usual complications.

The researchers, from Switzerland, made a framework structure with a combination of star-shaped molecules, proteins, and protein fragments. Inside the framework, they put proteins called BMPs, which spark bone regrowth. When the structure is then attached to the site of an injury, bone-forming cells attach themselves to the framework and dissolve parts of it, allowing BMPs out as needed to fix the bone.

In tests with rats, the new framework structure encouraged bone regrowth in places where fragments of the animals' skulls had been removed.

Someday, the new structure might eliminate the weeks of pain and tedium that most people face after breaking a bone. You'll be climbing trees again in no time!—E. Sohn

Going Deeper:

Gorman, Jessica. 2003. Bone fix: New material responds to growing tissue. Science News 163(April 26):261. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/20030426/fob6.asp .

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