Bone-breaking Job for Bio-Researchers

25. August 2008

For a long time, bone regeneration materials were considered the "babies" of biotechnology retorts. But orthopedists of the future have to readjust: Bones growing back on special matrices are just as much part of future bone medicine as absorbable bone regeneration materials.

Facts speak for themselves also from a scientific point of view. An EU survey quantified the annual number of hip surgeries alone with 750,000 worlwide plus another 100,000 corrective surgeries – half of them in Europe – during the same period. But also the 500,000 knee surgeries and more than 70,000 refixations would be classical applications for biomaterials which directly or indirectly connected to the skeletal structure of man. Even more extreme is the demand of the future generations since the demographic development i. e. the worldwide number of retired adults fifty years down the road will be beyond one billion. Every third European will be older than 60.

But it is exactly this group that needs "reconstruction aid" for their bones with increasing age. Already 10 years ago, the EU estimated the orthopaedic market of biomaterials at eight billion Euros with a growth of about five to eight percent. This included alone about 30% hip implants. So it does not come as a grand surprise that not only the EU supports research projects in this field. Whether we are talking universities of companies – everybody is looking for the "ideal bone replacement material and the perfect reconstruction aid for bones, but: Where do we stand in medicine today?

Children as the standard

The progress in bone regeneration is obvious. Here in Germany, the research network "Knochenregeneration" (bone regeneration) at the Medical University Rostock is well established and breaking molds. For example the use of implants and adult stem cells in particular in older patients, should prompt something normally the organism of children manages all by itself: The regeneration of bone material after fractures or other defects. "The interaction of the implant surface with stem cells should show how materials control the cells for bone regeneration", quotes an according report of the Rostock Professor Joachim Rychly and his working group cell biology.

Actually the approach of the Rostock team might be pathbreaking because for one thing the researchers use a special bone regeneration materials degrading again after implanation as soon as the bone has regenerated. For another thing they apply permanent implants as bone replacements simulating for example artificial joints.

Just how those research approaches can be established on the medical products market shows a sample in Warnemuende/Germany. In 2003 the Rostock bio-physicians Thomas Greber und Walter Gerike moved there with their newly founded company Artoss at the Forschungszentrum für Biomaterialien und Biosystemtechnik (research center for biomaterials and biosystem technology) – and showed that the regeneration of the bone is a very complex issue. Their company homepage informs: "Bones are not an idle dead mass but an organ interspersed with blood vessels and undergoing a permanent generation and degeneration called remodelling. The adult skeleton reconstructs about 10 percent of its bones every year" and "In an ideal bone regeneration material, the biomaterial degeneration is connected to the bone regeneration. This is only possible if the bone replacement material participates in the natural de- and regeneration process of the bone – the remodelling – solely degrading via the osteoclasts".

Chess computer as bone simulators

Which also means: The product developed in Warnemuende allows -due to a nano-structured regeneration material – the generation of new bone tissue and at the same time degenerates just like other products. The nano-granulates were used about 80,000 times worldwide – business booms. The global demand for bone replacement- and generation materials does not only keep German bio-physicians in Rostock or Warnemuende busy. For example researchers at the Fraunhofer-Institut für Fertigungstechnik und Angewandte Materialforschung IFAM (institute for manufacturing technology and applied material research) in Bremen developed a simulation program which assesses exactly the inner structure and density allocation of the bone material (the DocCheck Blog reported). That way the material structure for other components can be deduced in advance. The actual clou: The program simulates how the structure has to be built to be sufficient for the prescribed requirements. "Individual implants with an inner structure suiting and similar to the patient’s bones are easy to produce", the IFAM comments the new technology and: "With metal powder made of biomaterials such as titanium- and steel alloys we can replicate further bone parts such as the knee for example".

Even the computer bolide Blue Gene formerly better known for its games of chess nowadays does not get around the foray of bone medicine any longer. July 2nd researchers at the ETH Zurich/Switzerland and the IBM Research laboratory in Rueschlikon/Switzerland announced: "With the support of the Blue-Gene-Super-Computer of IBM we accomplished the most comprehensive simulation of human bone structures so far".

The afterwards information supplied by Blue Gene should interested bone hunters in Germany: The simulation allows – according to the experts of the alpine country – assertions on "where and after how much strain the bone in all likelihood will break".

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