If you picked up the Daily Mail this week and came across this article you may have been quite cynical. Glass, in bones, that heals? They must be joking! Well, no, it is true. Scientists at three English universities (Imperial College London, University of Kent, and Warwick) are working together to develop just that – a glass to heal bones.
Now, before you go thinking they’re crushing up windows and putting them in people, glass can be (simply) defined as: a brittle, transparent solid made from silica without a crystalline molecular structure. Back in the 1969, Larry Hench developed BioGlass (pictured left), after being challenged by a US colonel to help Vietnam War vets with devastating injuries. BioGlass was the first man-made material to bond with living tissues, and has many uses today, including dental, middle ear implants, and orthopaedic applications.
In patients where grafts are necessary, often there is little spare bone to graft from one place to another. Animal grafts or bone from donor banks introduce immune responses, and require lots of medication to prevent rejection. This research aims to eliminate that need altogether.
Today, scientists are working on improving this glass, making it more bioactive and like the shape of trabecular bone. Researchers at Imperial College were the first to take BioGlass and make it into a 3-D porous structure. The improved shape allows cells to grow and form tissue, while providing strength and support like native bone.
When implanted, these bioactive glasses gradually release necessary ions, such as calcium and phosphorus, stimulating the bone to mend itself. They are also biodegradable, and slowly break down as the bone re-grows, preventing a loss of strength while repairing. These glasses are now being combined with other materials on the nanoscale, widening their potential applications in the body. These implants have the potential to greatly improve patients’ quality of life and change the future of medicine.