​Bone Grafting


Technology has come such a long way that it has definitely entered all aspects of our lives; one of the fields that have developed by leaps and bounds is the medical field. Surgical procedures are nothing like what they used to be in the past, which is great news for us, since we do not have to rely on someone forcefully, holding us down while we get a medical procedure done. Nowadays, it all comes down to precision, whether it has to do with testing to find out what is wrong with you, or how to target that specific health issue in order to fix it.

One of the issues that used to stump physicians were bone injuries; in order to fix them, bone grafting emerged, greatly revolutionizing bone treatment. Grafting is a horticultural method that joins two different plants through their tissues, so that they continue to grow as one. This is the same idea behind bone grafting; it aims at transplanting bone tissue into an affected area. This method has allowed many people who would have otherwise spent the rest of their life suffering to have a chance at fully healing.

There are various problems that bone grafting can address, such as bone fractures, damaged joints, bones suffering from trauma that did not heal properly, lost bones due to infection or disease, and giving better support around an implanted device by growing bones. If the treatment is successful, patients are left with completely regenerated bones that are well and fully integrated in its surrounding region.

Many orthopaedic symbols feature a tree that is curved and has a scaffold supporting it; this symbolizes how bones have the ability to regenerate. However, in order to do that, they need some help; bone healing needs some guidance and bone grafts provide that guidance.

Not all transplanted grafts are the same; there are three different kinds of bone grafts that can be transplanted: an autologous bone graft is one that is taken from a person’s own body; an allograft is one that comes from a donor; and an artificial bone graft is one that is made in the lab. After bone grafts are transplanted, they are eventually reabsorbed into the body; thus, bone and graft become one. Sometimes, the body rejects the transplant, causing complications; as with any other kind of transplant, you are never fully sure that the body will accept it. However, this procedure does have a high success rate and numbers show that bone graft procedures are on the rise, meaning that they are an effective treatment option, which is why medical researchers are investing time and effort in finding new ways to improve bone grafting.

There is a collaboration to create new bone grafting material between researchers from American and Chinese universities. What is innovative about their research is the source material they are using to create artificial bone grafts. They are researching the possibility of using a sea urchin’s spine as material for bone grafts, because they have a structure that is very similar to human bones. Researchers started looking into sea urchins to try and find an alternative to the synthetic material known as hydroxyapatite, which has caused issues in bone transplants, because it is brittle and weak, and when dislodged from the bone graft could cause inflammation.

The research is led by Lei Cao from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. He wanted to create a stronger scaffold from the sea urchin spine, and used a hydrothermal reaction to convert the spines into biodegradable scaffolds. This allowed the spine to retain its shape, while becoming a more appropriate scaffold for bone grafting. After creating this hybrid scaffold, the research team tested it out on rabbits, which had damaged femurs. The rabbits had transplants using the newly-created urchin spine as a bone graft; the results were impressive as studies stated: “New bone grew after one month. By three months, the rabbits’ own bone and the scaffold had fused together nicely. By seven months, the scaffold was almost entirely degraded and replaced by the rabbit’s own bone”.

The success of this research bodes well for the future of bone grafting. As researchers continue looking for suitable lightweight material well suited for bone repairing, the possibilities are endless.

*Published in SCIplanet printed magazine, Summer 2017 Issue.


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