Orthopedic implants have become increasingly more common over the years thanks to new materials and technology to apply them. Yet, the fact that metals, plastics, and ceramics are the building blocks of implants, and are not exactly natural replacements of bone, limitations and side effects arise that are often disastrous.
In a search for better options, a team of European researchers have tested a new potential material for bone replacement that’s made out of rattan wood (vine-like palms). Wood has characteristics similar to bone, such as strength with flexibility, and an approximate structural density. The researchers found that its strength and ability to host transplanted cells points toward promise of wood-based ortho implants of the future. Steampunk is finally coming to an orthopedic surgeon near you.
From the announcement:
The professors believe that the technology could exploit the hierarchical physical structure of rattan wood to render it useful as a scaffold, thus creating a synthetic material to replace damaged and lost bone. An additional benefit is that such a material could be load-bearing, a factor that has precluded the use of earlier biomimetic materials.
However, the processing of raw wood to remove chemical components, which are incompatible with implants for humans, is long and complex. But the professors believe the benefits of producing a material, which is similar to bone, far outweigh such issues.
The process of turning wood into implants involves heat treatment of the wood to remove cellulose, lignin and other plant materials. This leaves behind a carbon skeleton that can be infiltrated and reacted with calcium, oxygen and phosphate to make a porous material, which in turn can chemically and mechanically mimic bone.
In concluding, the research team say that unlike metal alloys, ceramics and even donor bone, their patented material is low cost, has very good biomechanics and is biocompatible. It can also be integrated into existing bone, thus properly assisting bone regeneration.
Press release: Could wood replace damaged bones?
Study in International Journal of Healthcare Technology and Management: Human bone regeneration from wood: a novel hierarchically organised nanomaterial