EVANSTON, Ill. Scientists at Northwestern University have become the first to design molecules that could lead to a breakthrough in bone repair. The designer molecules hold promise for the development of a bonelike material to be used for bone fractures or in the treatment of bone cancer patients and have implications for the regeneration of other tissues and organs.
"Recreating natural bone structure at the nanoscale level the first level of bone structural hierarchy is what we set out to do with our experiments, and we succeeded," said Northwestern postdoctoral fellow Jeffrey D. Hartgerink, the lead author of a paper reporting these results, which will be published in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Science.
The molecules self-assemble into a three-dimensional structure that mimics the key features of human bone at the nanoscale level, including the collagen nanofibers that promote mineralization and the mineral nanocrystals. Collagen the most abundant protein in the human body is found in most human tissues, including the heart, eye, blood vessels, skin, cartilage and bone, and gives these tissues their structural strength.
When the synthetic nanofibers form they make a gel that could be used as a sort of glue in bone fractures or in creating a scaffold for other tissues to regenerate. Because of its chemical structure, the nanofiber gel would encourage attachment of natural bone cells, helping to patch the fracture. The gel also could be used to improve implants or hip and other joint replacements.
The findings also map out a path for the creation of many other materials by self-assembly and spontaneous mineralization that take advantage of an inorganic material growing on an organic material (known as a composite) and which could be useful in electronics, photonics, magnetics and catalysis.
"Regenerative medicine is a big frontier," said Samuel I. Stupp, Board of Trustees Professor of Materials Science, Chemistry
Contact: Megan Fellman