UK researchers to develop bone cements for spinal fractures

By Redazione

Scientists at the University of Leeds and the Queen’s University Belfast in the UK are developing new biological cements to repair ‘burst fractures’ of the spine.

The new research, which receives more than ?700,000 in funding from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) could offer hope for victims of the most devastating
spinal injuries. Such injuries are frequently the result of car crashes or similar accidents and thus often require highly complex, invasive surgery. They account for over 1,000 emergency
admissions to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) hospitals per year.

Burst fractures tend to occur more in younger people. However, there is not enough data on long-term effects of using exiting cements for the treatment of this kind of injury. Currently, bone
cements are mainly used in older patients suffering from osteoporosis in a procedure known as vertebroplasty, but burst fractures to the spine present a greater challenge.

‘This type of fracture causes the vertebra to burst apart and in severe cases fragments of bone can be pushed into the spinal cord,’ says Dr Ruth Wilcox of Leeds’ Institute of Medical and
Biological Engineering. ‘Surgeons may be able to join bone fragments together and stabilise the spine with the use of metal screws and rods, but patients with these injuries are often in a
really bad way, so the less invasive the treatment, the better.’

‘These materials can be delivered to the fracture site by injection and mimic the chemical composition of bone itself,’ Dr Fraser Buchanan from Queen’s University’s School of Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering explains.

While the experts in Belfast will be in charge of developing and testing the new cements, the Leeds team will provide data to assist the development and simulate how the new materials will
perform in patients on the basis of a computer model.

In the case of patients with osteoporosis, existing cements seem to further the development of fractures in the vertebrae next to those treated with vertebroplasty. ‘This may be because current
cements are stiffer than the bone itself, causing an imbalance in the way the spine bears weight,’ says Dr Wilcox.

‘Clearly we need to develop biomaterials that more closely match the properties of real bone,’ adds Dr Buchanan. ‘This project offers the perfect opportunity to use the range of complimentary
skills of this grouping to predict the effects of newly developed cements and even incorporate biological agents to assist the body’s healing process.’

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