Wonderful Engineering

Researchers Develop Material That Mimics Human Bone Tissue

A team of researchers at Oregon Health & Science University has managed to create a material that can replicate the human bone tissue. This discovery will be utilized for exploring bone cancer and for treating big bone injuries. The research team was being led by Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Dentistry and a member of CEDAR, the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

The team was able to develop a material using an unprecedented level of precision. The material has a 3D mineral structure that features bone cells, nerve cells, and endothelial cells that can self-organize into the blood vessels, much like a real bone. The researchers mixed human stem cells into a solution that was made up using collagen. The collagen proteins create a gel that engulfs the stem cells. The material was created using a mixture of dissolved calcium, phosphate, and protein osteopontin.

The protein osteopontin additive is extracted from cows milk and prevents the crystallization of minerals from taking place early. It also helps in reducing the toxicity of the mineral to the cells. The research team was able to create the bone structure down to a nanometer-scale while going through the same process that a bone does while forming. This is also the first time that researchers have been able to embed cells in minerals. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Bertassoni while announcing the work in a press release said, ‘Essentially it is a miniaturized bone in a dish that we can produce in a matter of 72 hours or less. What is remarkable is that researchers in our field have become used to cultivating cells within a protein mixture to approximate how cells live in the body. But this is the first time anyone has been able to embed cells in minerals, which is what characterizes the bone tissue.’

Since the research team was able to embed cells in minerals, the new material offers a lot of potential in terms of studying bone function, diseases, and bone regeneration. Bertassoni further added, ‘Being able to engineer truly bone-like tissues in the lab can also be transformative for regenerative medicine. Since the current treatment for large bone fractures requires the removal of the patient’s own healthy bone so that it can be implanted at the site of injury.’