‘Honeycomb’ implant helps grow new bone

U. SOUTHAMPTON (UK) — Shattered limbs may soon get a boost in healing from an implant made from stem cells and a lightweight plastic that degrades as the bone mends.

The new method uses bone stem cells combined with a degradable rigid material that inserts into broken bones, encouraging real bone to re-grow.

Researchers, whose findings are published in Advanced Functional Materials, have developed the material with a honeycomb scaffold structure that allows blood to flow through it, enabling stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow to attach to the material and grow new bone. Over time, the plastic slowly degrades as the implant is replaced by newly grown bone.


Scientists developed the material by blending three types of plastics. They used a pioneering technique to blend and test hundreds of combinations of plastics, to identify a blend that was robust, lightweight, and able to support bone stem cells.

“We were able to make and look at a hundreds of candidate materials and rapidly whittle these down to one which is strong enough to replace bone and is also a suitable surface upon which to grow new bone.” says Professor Mark Bradley of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry.

Successful results have been shown in the lab and in animal testing with the focus now moving towards human clinical evaluation.

“Fractures and bone loss due to trauma or disease are a significant clinical and socioeconomic problem. This collaboration between chemistry and medicine has identified unique candidate materials that support human bone stem cell growth and allow bone formation,” explains Richard Oreffo, Professor of Musculoskeletal Science at the University of Southampton.

“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,” says Bradley.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funded the research.

Source: University of Southampton