Thomas Webster, an associate professor at the Divisions of Engineering and Orthopedic Surgery at Brown, has created a nanomaterial that can be injected into the human body. Once the material reaches body temperature it rapidly hardens into a substance like bone.
According to the university, “Professor Webster directs the Nanomedicine Laboratory which designs, synthesizes, and evaluates nanomaterials for various implant applications. Nanomaterials are central to the field of nanotechnology and are materials with one dimension less than 100 nm. Tissues investigated include bone, bladder, vascular, cartilage, dental, and the nervous system.”
During a recent interview with technologyreview.com, Webster pointed out that the amazing material actually has the same nucleic acids as DNA. He explained that each molecule has two of what are termed “covalent bonds” that link with other molecules creating a “twin-base linker.” The nanomaterial forms a tube.
“It self-assembles into a nano structure, emulates natural tissue, solidifies quickly at body temperature, and can be made to match the mechanical properties of the tissue you inject it into,” Webster told technologyreview.com.
Nanomaterial with similar properties has been developed by other researchers, but the structure has been too weak and cannot support wright like natural bone tissue can.
Asked if his nanomaterial will be able to sustain weights and pressures like human bones can, Webster responded that he’s sure it can. “It will have that strength after solidifying in the body—after a couple of minutes,” he asserted.
Ali Khademhosseini, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, told technologyreview.com that the Brown University engineer’s nanomaterial seems promising and the need for new bone-like materials for medical applications is great.
The reason why better methods of replacing bone are needed, Khademhosseini explained, is that most surgeons today are limited to replacing or reinforcing bone with metal plates while bones heal. Over time the metal oxidizes and disintegrates and must be replaced.
According to Khademhosseini, tissue engineers have been seeking substitutes for the metal plates. The perfect material would be able to last much longer and integrate better with the body’s physiology. Khademhosseini believes that if Webster has indeed created such a material it could transform the surgical techniques currently employed with bone surgery and repair. It would also positively affect post-surgery therapies.
After actively seeking a corporate partner to begin testing and eventually manufacturing and marketing the bone matter nanomaterial, Brown University issued a press release confirming a deal had been struck with medical device maker Audax Medical of Littleton, Massachusetts.
The company plans to work with Webster to begin conducting formal trials with animals and to further the development of the future product.