New "Bone scaffold" could help in bone graft procedures

From wounded warriors to cancer patients and accident victims, there are an estimated 500,000 bone graft procedures every year in the United States.

Now, a new invention could change the lives of people who lose bones due to injury or illness. Instead of using a patient's bone, or even cadaver bones, researchers are using material you can find in carpet padding.

When you think of scaffolding, construction sites may come to mind. But at the University of Texas San Antonio, researchers are developing something similar to help build bones—not buildings—using a medical grade of polyurethane foam. The porous, spongy material can be found in everything from toys to carpet padding.

Joo Ong co-invented the bone scaffold. He says it can be used instead of bone grafts for injuries as small as five millimeters.

“But we can make it as big as we want,” Ong, the Biomedical Engineering Chair at UTSA said.

Calcium phosphate—the mineral found naturally in bone—coats the polyurethane foam. Then, it's put in a furnace. Less than 24 hours later, the foam burns away. The calcium phosphate takes its shape, hardening into a scaffold.

It is very porous and therefore very absorbent. Ong says that's a sign of how it could be a better option than using donor bone or other synthetics in grafting procedures.

"There's less likelihood for the body to reject the material," he said.

Right now, the scaffold is awaiting FDA approval. Cory Hallam says through the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, it is the first product from UTSA going to market.

“It’s not just pure research we do anymore,” he said. “We’re solving real-world problems that have a big impact on the human condition.”

While the bone scaffold has not helped grow human bone yet, it has grown a university invention into a new company called Gen-Osteo, and this little thing could be the next big thing in bone grafting.

Ong says another advantage of the bone scaffold is that it can be formed into any shape, so it could be made-to-order for surgeons.

The bone scaffold has been successful in animals and in pre-clinical trials and is expected to get FDA approval within a year.

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