A group of Italian researchers say they have developed a new procedure that turns wood into artificial bones. The procedure offers hope of a bone replacement material that lasts a lifetime. The findings were presented in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal.
Italian scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology of Ceramic Materials in Italy are currently developing wood-based bone implants for animals and humans that may assist neighboring bones to heal quicker and with more support than the artificial ones available today.
Researcher Simone Sprio says since wood's physical structure is more spongy than solid, like many metal or ceramic implants, live bone should grow into wood-derived bone substitute quicker and more securely. "A bone substitute must have a chemical behavior like the one of bone. And to transform this wood implants into inorganic bone substitutes, we selected some woods presenting the relevant porosities and relevant structures to simulate one of the bones. And we applied a sequence of treatments to transform this wood into hydroxyapatite, which is the material forming the inorganic part of bone," Spiro said.
Sprio says to makes the bone substitute, the scientists start with a block of wood and heat it until it turns into pure carbon. Then from carbon into calcium carbide, calcium oxide, calcium carbonate, and finally by treating the piece in the presence of phosphate ions the calcium carbonate transforms into calcium phosphate.
The process is done in this order to maintain the microstructure of the original wood known as hydroxyapatite. This material is what the body's cells would recognize as bone.
The idea is to have a bone substitute that has the same chemical composition as bone so the cells are able to completely digest this wood, leaving a new bone in its place.
Sprio says the process takes a short amount of time to complete before it can be implanted into the body. "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," Spiro
Sprio says the entire process is very cost effective at around $1,500.
The wood-derived bone substitute does not have approval yet for use in humans and clinical trials are currently limited to animal use.