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Swiss Researchers Claim New Ground in Polymer-Ceramic Bone Repair

22 October 2004

Swiss medical researchers have achieved encouraging results with a pioneering synthetic material that could replace damaged bones allowing the original bone tissue to grow back in its place. The new developments were borne out of research performed by a team from Lausanne's University Hospital and the Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). “The synthetic material developed by us is the result of three years of intensive work and hundreds of tests,” commented project coordinator Dr Pierre-Etienne Bourban. The “bioresorbable synthetic bone matter” is a composite material made up of plastic and ceramic particles that strengthen it. On its own the polymer would not be stiff enough and using ceramic alone would be too brittle. The material has a similar structure to bone in that it is porous inside and more compact on the outside. Bourban said the joint effort by composite materials specialists and medical researchers had created a material that combined structural and biological properties. According to the National Science Foundation, the properties of both polymer and ceramic can be combined into a material that will be accepted by the human body. In experiments, researchers put the material together with human bone cells, resulting in an increase in the number of cells. The material proved to be biocompatible and supported the formation of new bone tissue. Dr Dominique Pioletti at the Lausanne institute’s orthopaedic research laboratory asserted that “there are already artificial bones in existence, but they often have disadvantages. They are, for example, not solid enough. The material that we are putting forward has high mechanical properties and is porous at the same time. That is what is new”. Pioletti also added that the lightweight polymer-ceramic was not meant to be used as a cement or filler but in its finished form. ""It's really for use like a bone with a predetermined form, or which will be sculpted by the surgeon,"" he said. Piolettia said that detailed findings have been submitted for peer-review by medical journals and presented as abstracts at scientific conferences.

The discovery offers hope for patients needing bone transplants, with the material expected to be ready for medical use in five years’ time.