Bone Scaffold: Medicine's Next Big Thing?


From wounded warriors to cancer patients to accident victims, there are an estimated 500,000 bone graft procedures every year in the U.S. Now, a new invention could change the lives of people who lose bones due to injury or illness. Instead of using a patient's bone or even cadaver bone, researchers are using material you can find in carpet padding.

At the University of Texas San Antonio, researchers are developing something similar to scaffolding to help build bones.

Using a medical grade of polyurethane foam -- the porous, spongy stuff you can find in everything from toys to carpet padding -- Joo Ong co-invented the bone scaffold. He says it can be used instead of bone grafts for injuries as small as five millimeters.

"But we can make it as big as we want," Ong, Ph.D., UTSA Biomedical Engineering Chair & USAA Foundation distinguished professor of Biomedical Engineering, told Ivanhoe.

Calcium phosphate -- a mineral found naturally in bone -- coats the polyurethane foam. Then, it's put in a furnace. Less than 24 hours later, the foam burns away. The calcium phosphate takes its shape -- hardening into a scaffold.

You can see that it's very porous under a microscope, and it wicks up liquids. Ong says that's a sign of how it could be a better option than using donor bone or other synthetics in grafting procedures.

"There's less likelihood for the body to reject the material," Ong said.

Right now, the scaffold is awaiting FDA approval.

Cory Hallam says through the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, it's the first product from UTSA going to market.

"It's not just pure research we do anymore, we're solving real world problems that have a big impact on the human condition," Hallam told Ivanhoe.

While the bone scaffold hasn't helped grow human bone yet, this little thing could be the next bigthing.

The bone scaffold is expected to get FDA approval within a year. It's been successful in animals in pre-clinical trials.

Ong tells us another advantage of the bone scaffold is it can be formed into any shape, so it could be made to order for surgeons.

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