Case study: Bioactive glass for bone growth

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Bioactive, glass, biology
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ISIS helps medical researchers develop a glass that could replace bone transplants.

  • Every year thousands of elderly patients undergo hip or knee transplants.
  • A new ‘bioactive glass’ that dissolves as it releases calcium into the body is being developed by British scientists. This stimulates bone growth and could spell an end to transplants. 
  • By using neutron scattering at ISIS, scientists understood how and at what rate the calcium is released into the bone.

More than 300,000 bone graft operations are performed  in Europe each year. Scientists are developing a new type of glass that releases calcium into the body as it dissolves. This may one day prevent the need for surgery by enabling patients to re-grow their own bones.

The glass implants activate genes and stimulate growth in bone cells by releasing soluble silica and calcium in specific concentrations at the right time.

Scientists using the ISIS neutron source have been able to investigate, at the atomic level, how the structure of the glass affects its properties. This fundamental research showed exactly how the calcium is held in the glass and how it is released into the body.

“When the material was studied at ISIS the process became clearer,” says Professor Bob Newport at the University of Kent.

“No direct or quantitative study of the calcium atoms in the glass network had been undertaken, but using ISIS to study the relationship between these atoms and the host silicate glass has enabled us to move forward with the programme,” says Prof Newport.

Further research at the ISIS Second Target Station will investigate glass/polymer hybrids and could assist the development of mechanically-stronger versions for use in joint replacements. Clinical trials are expected to take place within 5 years.

L. J. Skipper

Research date: January 2005

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