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Posted: October 31, 2007

EU natural plastic project breathes life into bone implants

(Nanowerk News) European researchers looking into bone implants believe that the future could lie with natural plastics which, they claim, can better adapt to the skeleton, thereby eliminating the need for repeated operations.
The scientists, working on the EU-funded NEWBONE project, have been busy researching and developing the properties of fibre composites to mimic those of the bone and replace the stainless steel implants used nowadays.
'We're working with a variant of fibre composites (that is, reinforced plastics) that have properties that are compatible with the bones of the skeleton. This means that the mechanical properties of the implant will be the same as those of the bone and that the implant will function well together with the skeleton,' explains Karri Airola, a researcher at the University College of Borås, Sweden.
The researchers from nine European countries consider new implant materials to have real potential that needs to be further developed. 'The combination of polymers and fibreglass provides very strong materials, and when their surface has been treated with bioactive glass, these implants can grow together with bone tissue,' says Dr Airola.
'The new bone implant would offer several advantages compared with metal implants. With metal implants, there is sometimes a risk that the patient will have to undergo another operation, to replace the implant. For implants made of fibre composite, this risk is smaller, since the properties of the fibre composite more closely mimic those of the bone,' he added.
People who suffer from osteoporosis or bone cancer, or sports or traffic injury patients, are likely candidates for bone implants. The global market has an annual turnover of €700 million each year, and this figure is increasing by approximately 20% annually due to the ageing population. One of the goals of the project is to enhance the competitiveness of the European implant industry in this niche sector.
'We believe these novel biostable and biodegradable implants to be a major advanced health care solution in the world,' says orthopaedist professor Hannu Aro from the University of Turku, Finland.
The scientists will be presenting their interim findings at a conference hosted by the University College of Borås, Sweden, on 5 and 6 November 2007. Then the final research results will be showcased in 2011, with the production of the new materials likely to begin after that.
The total budget for the project is €6.5 million, with funding coming from the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). More than half of the partners in the scheme are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Source: Cordis
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