April 8 (UPI) — Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Connecticut are creating a new moldable, bioactive foam that could be used to replace skull bone lost during injuries and surgeries.
The foam becomes malleable when soaked in warm saline and hardens once fitted into place. The material wouldn’t serve as a permanent replacement, but instead act as scaffolding on which new bone could grow.
The foam includes pores with a coating designed to attract new bone cells. As new bone regenerates, the foam disintegrates.
Currently, surgeons typically use bone grafts from the patient’s hip to fill in cranio-maxillofacial gaps.
“This is like trying to fill in a missing puzzle piece with the wrong piece,” Melissa Grunlan, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, said in a news release. “These bone defects can cause tremendous functional problems and aesthetic issues for individuals, so it was recognized that a better treatment would make a big impact.”
Using grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, Grunlan and her colleagues are currently testing different iterations of the foam.
“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 Mariah Hahn, a Rensselaer professor of biomedical engineering.
The foam has already proven to be biocompatible in tests using animal models. Currently, Hahn is trying to better understand why different foam iterations encourage bone cell proliferation better than others.
“A moldable bone-promoting scaffold could have broad use if it’s successful,” concluded 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.”