Think the wooden leg is gone for good? Think again. A team of researchers led by Anna Tampieri at the Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics (ISTEC) in Faenza, Italy, have discovered that heat-treated wood may provide an ideal substrate for bone prostheses and bone tissue engineering.
Tampieri’s team pioneered a five-step process in which wood’s naturally porous, vascular structure is used to provide a substrate for bone minerals, making the new structure a naturally amenable home for blood vessels and other tissues needed to replicate bone function.
The researchers started by heating a piece of wood to the point that its organic material degraded, leaving behind a “carbon template” with a naturally porous structure. Next, the researchers coated the template with liquid or vapor calcium, which they exposed to oxygen and then carbon dioxide, which together formed calcium carbonate. In the final step, they exposed the material to a phosphate, which morphed the calcium carbonate into hydroxylapatite, the inorganic material that makes up approximately 70 percent of human bone mass. The new structure, which can be seeded with human tissue, could provide an internal prosthesis with the load-bearing capacity and tissue integration needed for rigorous human use.
According to the June 2009 Journal of Materials Chemistry, Tampieris’s group calls the material a “new inorganic biomorphic scaffold providing a biomimetic nanostructure surface” and says it holds possibilities for “fascinating bone engineering applications.”
Tampieri told medgadget.com, “Materials able to maintain adequate properties at extremely high temperatures and mechanical stress are highly sought after for use in several different applications such as space vehicles…. An intriguing possibility is that of simultaneously achieving high values of strength and toughness, for which ordinarily there is a trade-off. In addition, new materials with extreme physical properties, such as thermal expansion or piezoelectricity, can be obtained.”