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Researchers develop new bonelike material

Dr. Luiz E. Bertassoni (left) and his colleagues at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Dentistry have developed a material that replicates human bone tissue down to a nanometer scale. (Photograph: Joe Rojas-Burke)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Thu. 15. August 2019


PORTLAND, Ore., U.S.: In a recent development that could have a huge impact on the dental industry, researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University School of Dentistry have developed a material that replicates human bone tissue. It can be produced in 72 days or less with an unprecedented level of precision, from its microscopic crystalline structure to its biological activity, and has been referred to as “bone in a dish”.

Speaking to Dental Tribune International regarding the process of developing the new material, lead researcher Dr. Luiz E. Bertassoni said that the journey had been a long one, from identifying the nanoscale characteristics of bone and other mineralized tissue to subsequently learning and optimizing a process to grow blood capillaries and neuronal networks in vitro. “After we had those pieces of the puzzle, which we sort of accumulated over the years, we began to concentrate on the development of a system that could calcify cell-loaded hydrogels to mimic the nanoscale structure and composition of bone.”

Testing a number of proteins and polymers that are known to promote nanoscale calcification of collagen, Bertassoni and his team then set out to optimize the conditions required to culture cells in the solutions, before fine-tuning the system that led to functional blood capillaries, nerve fibers and bone metabolism. “If our predictions are correct, this could mean that large bone defects that currently do not heal by themselves and require autologous bone transplantation may actually be regenerated better with these materials. We are currently testing that. In a way, it’s like we are able to make real human bone—with nearly all of its complexity—in the lab in a matter of 72 days or less, in a highly controllable method.”

The short space of time in which the material can be produced is another exciting element of the study. According to Bertassoni, because the researchers can start and stop the process as they please and can also add more or less calcium and phosphate, the environment is highly controlled, which therefore produces fast results.

However, the fast results are not impressive without material accuracy. Bertassoni explained that the trick of being able to produce bone down to the nanometer scale is to mimic nature to the closest degree possible. “We have known for a while that bone mineralization is orchestrated by proteins. Nature does this in a funny way, where it prevents mineral precipitation to actually form a mineral crystallite. So, we adopted a similar approach. We used a highly efficient precipitation inhibitor—which is counterintuitive—to actually form a mineral crystal and that allowed the ‘liquid’ mineral ions to infiltrate into the nanoporosity of collagen (the major protein in bone) like water seeps into the tiniest little holes. Once the infiltration has taken place, the proteins are removed and ions crystalize into the exact shape and form of mineral crystals in the native bone.”

The researchers are pushing for the material to be available in the next few years. “This is an area where regulatory hurdles are still very significant, and that may delay things a bit for clinical use. But the technology is being actively optimized for wider use,” said Bertassoni.

The study, titled “Rapid fabrication of vascularized and innervated cell-laden bone models with biomimetic intrafibrillar collagen mineralization,” was published on Aug. 6, 2019, in Nature Communications.

One thought on “Researchers develop new bonelike material

  1. Dental Tribune Latin America says:

    Interesting article

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