Smart material can heal bone

May 14, 2012 By Annbritt Ryman
The hydrogel can be injected and is moreover made from a hyaluronic acid that occurs naturally in the body in both humans and animals. Credit: Daniel Stenfelt

How do get something to grow out of nothing? This is what the polymer chemistry team at the Department of Chemistry at Ångström Laboratory is discovering at great speed. Their findings mean that we soon will not have to be operated on to heal severe bone fractures or burn injuries. All we will need is an injection.

“Explore everything – stop at nothing”. This quote, which introduces Sonya Piskounova´s dissertation on smart biomaterial, is taken from Lara Croft, the heroine of the game Tomb Raider. The motto reflects the attitude of the research team in materials chemistry at Ångström Laboratory. An attitude largely based on interdisciplinary collaboration. Besides chemists, the team includes biologists, medical researchers, surgeons, and materials scientists.

Sonya herself holds a master’s degree in biotechnology. The research speciality is called regenerative medicine and is about developing new biomaterials and methods to get human bone, cartilage, nerves, and skin to heal itself.

Sonya Piskounova is concentrating on the creation of new bone tissue with the aid of a biomolecule called BMP-2, which is a protein that makes bones grow. The problem with BMP-2 is that it breaks down in the body in just a few minutes.

"What’s new, and what I show in my dissertation, is that by having a gel-like substance carry the protein, a so-called hydrogel, you can control both how and where the new bone is to grow," explains Sonya Piskounova.

This hydrogel can be injected and is moreover made from a type of sugar (hyaluronic acid). It occurs naturally in the body in humans and animals and is otherwise used in cosmetic products for treating wrinkles. This offers major advantages.

"On the one hand, you avoid open surgery and the risk of complications and infections that entails, and, on the other hand, there is no risk that the body will reject it, says Sonya Piskounova.

Applications in healthcare include both healing complicated bone fractures and growing tissue where there is too little or none at all. This involves defects following and cancer or when the jawbone is too weak to support a tooth implant. Clinical testing is already underway at Karolinska University Hospital.

"The tests show that it’s working well, but the problem we need to solve is how to determine the optimal dosage of the protein. Otherwise inflammations can occur in surrounding tissue."

Despite this hitch, Sonya Piskounova is certain that this type of treatment will soon be a reality in our hospitals.

"Within ten years. I’m absolutely sure, she says, hitting the table with her fist."

Explore further: Smart materials that get bone to heal

Related Stories

Smart materials that get bone to heal

November 4, 2011
Bone tissue is very good at self-healing, but in many situations the natural healing process is not sufficient. In a dissertation at Uppsala University, Sonya Piskounova shows how functional materials that she and her colleagues ...

Recommended for you

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.