Wood is being studied as a possible bone replacement material for its adaptability and cost effectiveness.
Current bone replacement technology is a temporary solution, but according to Italian scientists working with wood, their new process leads to a permanent bone replacement.
Researchers with the Instituto Di Scienza E Technolgia Dei Materiali Ceramici in Italy say the idea is to use certain types of wood (e.g. red oak, rattan) that closely resemble the structure of human bones.
Using a five step process, the wood is chemicallytransformed into hydroxyapatite, the material forming the inorganic part of bone.
The researchers have been successful in implanting the wood-bone substitute in large animals with what they call "remarkable results" on non-load bearing bones. The next step, they say, is to continue the process in load bearing bones such as the bones in legs.
“Our intention is to prepare bone substitutes which can be reabsorbed by bone cells. In this way, if the cells are able to completely digest and progressively reform the new bone," said Simone Sprio, one of the researchers on the project. In theory, the bone substitute will disappear, leaving in place the new bone. "We hope that this material can last a lifetime because they are replaced by new bone,” Sprio said.
The process appears to be relatively quick and inexpensive. “The synthesis takes more or less a week. After the synthesis, we have to sterilize the piece. And in theory, after sterilization, it can be implanted,” Sprio said. The cost? About $1500.
The wood-derived bone substitute does not have approval yet for use in humans and clinical trials are currently limited to animal use. The research was published in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal.