A team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is developing a new mouldable scaffold that can be used to replace skull bone lost to injury, surgery or birth defect.
The bioactive foam is malleable when exposed to warm saline, allowing surgeons to easily shape it to fit irregular defects in the skull, where it hardens in place. Once implanted in the skull, specially coated pores within the foam attract bone cells, naturally regenerating bone to replace the foam, which dissolves over time.
The foam – a shape memory polymer coated in a bioactive polydopamine – is intended as an alternative to materials currently used to treat cranio-maxillofacial gaps. Most commonly, such gaps are filled with a bone graft surgically harvested from the patient, such as from the hip. Such rigid bone grafts are often difficult to harvest, and cannot be readily manipulated to fit within irregularly shaped bone defects, compromising healing.
Mariah Hahn, a professor of biomedical engineering and an expert in bone tissue engineering, will test various formulations of the foam in vitro, recommending the most successful formulations for further pre-clinical testing, and providing insights on why some foams are more or less successful in promoting bone growth.
“We want to find the ideal formulation that maintains the amazing shape memory properties of the foam, while providing the optimal environment for stimulating new bone formation,” said Hahn.
The research draws upon Hahn’s expertise in bone formation and bone tissue engineering in evaluating the materials and proposing next steps to optimise the formulas. Hahn’s research focuses on understanding cell-to-cell and cell-to-material interactions at a fundamental level.
The project began about five years ago, and has already shown good biocompatibility in preliminary tests in small animal models. Many more years of refinement and testing are required before a product reaches surgeons.
“A mouldable bone-promoting scaffold could have broad use if it’s successful,” said Hahn. “It takes advantages of the body’s own healing ability, and it’s a low-cost, ‘off the shelf’ solution that would not need to be pre-tailored to the individual defect.”
Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Picture credit: Texas A&M University