UBC and McMaster researchers use plant cellulose for bone implants

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      A research team from UBC and Ontario's McMaster University have developed a material based on plant cellulose that might replace synthetic bone implants.

      The injectable implant substance, called an aerogel, is made from plant-cellulose nanocrystals that are treated to form a strong but light spongelike material.

      This aerogel can shrink or expand to fill bone cavities, depending upon what property is required. 

      Information on the new technique was published on March 15 in the online science journal Acta Materialia.

      Lead study author Daniel Osorio, a McMaster PhD student in chemical engineering, said in a March 19 UBC release: 

      “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. We created this cellulose nanocrystal aerogel as a more effective alternative to these synthetic materials.”

      Research with rats showed that a test group with the aerogel implant demonstrated 50 percent more bone growth after 12 weeks than did a control group.

      Study coauthor Emily Cranston, a UBC professor of wood science and chemical and biological engineering, said in the release that the implant should break down into harmless components in the body after treated bones begin to heal.

      "“These findings show, for the first time in a lab setting, that a cellulose nanocrystal aerogel can support new bone growth,” Cranston added.

      Study supervisor and coauthor Kathryn Grandfield, a McMaster professor of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering, noted that the bone-graft market in North America is worth $2 billion annually.

      “We can see this aerogel being used for a number of applications, including dental implants and spinal and joint-replacement surgeries,” Grandfield said. “And it will be economical because the raw material, the nanocellulose, is already being produced in commercial quantities.”

      The release noted that the innovation would require more biological testing before it could be evaluated in clinical trials.