Fracture Putty – Bioactive Nano Scaffold Could Revolutionize Bone Healing

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In June 2008 DARPA solicited proposals from interested institutions to participate in a project to develop fracture putty:

A dynamic putty which, when packed in/around a compound bone fracture, provides full load-bearing capabilities within hours, creates an osteoconductive bone-like internal structure, and degrades over time to harmless resorbable by-products as normal bone regenerates.

This week the University of Texas and the Baylor College of Medicine have both announced that they have been chosen as part of a consortium that will attempt to bring the vision of fracture putty to reality.

 In a testament to the new capabilities that are a direct result of accelerating technological change, the consortium’s success on this initiative will depend heavily on recent advances in nanotechnology, material science, and biology that were only a dream earlier this decade.  According to the Baylor and University of Texas releases:

The putty will have the texture of modeling clay so that it can be molded in any shape in order to be used in many different surgical applications including the reconnection of separated bones and the replacement of missing bones.  The putty will harden into a nanoporous silicon scaffold strong enough to support the patient’s weight while new bone tissue is being regenerated.  The putty will be infiltrated with a gel containing cells that produce bone morphogenic proteins (BMP), which are a group of growth factors and cytokines known for their ability to induce the formation of bone and cartilage.  Over time the putty will degrade naturally as healthy, new bone grows in to replace it.

According to DARPA, current treatment for bone fractures requires internal or external fixation with plates, screws, and rods.  These therapies are plagued with long healing times, multiple surgeries, high risk of infection and amputation, and overall sub-optimal healing.  There is huge demand worldwide for enhanced bone repair capability.  Approximately 30% of all battlefield trauma cases involved bone fractures, typically due to high energy events such as blasts or gunshots.  Civilians injured in traffic accidents and other traumatic events also commonly suffer from severe bone fractures.

It should be noted that this project is in its very earliest stages.  The pursuit of a concept, not the release of an actual product, is the exciting news today.

A picture diagram from the University of Texas has been provide below:

Fracture putty for traumatic bone regeneration

Panel 1: The fracture putty (or BioNanoScaffold) composite material is implanted in the site of the shattered bone. Growth factors are released from the implant and recruit the patient’s cells. The putty is load-bearing, so the patient is able to walk while the bone heals.


Panel 2: The fracture putty is infiltrated by cells which begin to create new bone. At the same time, the material constituting the fracture putty, starts degrading.

Panel 3: The degradation of the fracture putty gradually transfers the weight of the patient to the regenerating bone, aiding in its functional recovery.

Panel 4: Several months after injury, the architecture and function of the bone are fundamentally restored.

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