Researchers at the Imperial College in Britain are developing a new type of dissolvable glass which releases calcium into the body and promotes bone growth. In addition to releasing calcium, the glass also releases other elements, like silicon, and itself harmlessly dissolves without leaving traces of the glass or other toxic byproducts in the body. The glass acts as a template for bone growth. While there are variants of these materials currently being used, the mechanism of how they work was not fully known. However, by performing experiments using the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ISIS neutron source, researchers are able to fully understand how calcium leaves the glass and what is the required rate to generate a response.
The glass activates genes present in human bone cells which encode proteins controlling the bone cell cycle and the differentiation of the cell to form bone matrix and rapid mineralisation of bone nodules. It is the release of soluble silica and calcium ions in specific concentrations that activate the genes. Gene activation occurs only when the timing sequence of the cell cycle is matched by that of the glass surface reactions and controlled release of the ions.