Scientists have used plant cellulose to develop a strong, lightweight sponge that could be used as bone implants of the future. Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and McMaster University in Canada have developed an airy, foamlike substance that can be injected into the body and provide scaffolding for the growth of new bone. It is made by treating nanocrystals derived from plant cellulose so that they link up and form an aerogel that can compress or expand as needed to completely fill out a bone cavity.
“Most bone graft or implants are made of hard, brittle ceramic that doesn’t always conform to the shape of the hole, and those gaps can lead to poor growth of the bone and implant failure,” said Daniel Osorio, a PhD student at McMaster. “We created this cellulose nanocrystal aerogel as a more effective alternative to these synthetic materials,” said Osorio.
Researchers worked with two groups of rats, with the first group receiving the aerogel implants and the second group receiving none. Results showed that the group with implants saw 33 per cent more bone growth at the three-week mark and 50 per cent more bone growth at the 12-week mark, compared to the controls. “These findings show, for the first time in a lab setting, that a cellulose nanocrystal aerogel can support new bone growth,” said Emily Cranston, a professor at UBC.
The implant should break down into non-toxic components in the body as the bone starts to heal. “We can see this aerogel being used for a number of applications including dental implants and spinal and joint replacement surgeries,” said Kathryn Grandfield, at McMaster. “And it will be economical because the raw material, the nano-cellulose, is already being produced in commercial quantities,” said Grandfield.