Scientists Apply Paint Element to Bone Recovery


Coatings have long had a role in biomedical applications such as implants, but a team of Scottish researchers now believe a common paint ingredient can be used to aid in bone regeneration.

Biomedical engineers at the University of Glasgow are using the polymer poly(ethyl acrylate), an inexpensive ingredient in acrylic paints, to help stimulate “growth factors”—molecules which help the body to regenerate, the school announced Saturday (Aug. 27).

Coating a bone graft with the polymer, for example, can help the body regenerate bone more quickly, according to the team’s research.

As such, use of the polymer could be a promising treatment for spinal injuries, bone grafts and other orthopedic surgeries, they said.

“In itself, the polymer we’re using seems fairly unremarkable but we’ve discovered that it has enormous potential for clinical applications,” said Matthew Dalby, professor of Cell Engineering.

Understanding Growth Factors

According to the engineers, growth factors play an important role in developmental biology, orchestrating development as bodies grow and age by telling tissues when, where and how to form, Dalby said.

Although a growth factor molecule known as bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2) has been used to encourage bone regrowth in clinical applications, it hasn’t been widely adopted because the human body quickly passes the protein through its system.

To combat that tendency, clinicians need to use BMP-2 in large doses, which can cause unwelcome side effects such as neurological impairment or tumors, the researchers said.

University of Glasgow

According to the team's research, a cheap, commercially produced polymer can be applied to the site of an injury or bone loss to help stimulate "growth factors"—molecules which help the body to regenerate.

The new polymer coating technique from the Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology and School of Engineering reportedly uses a unique property of poly(ethyl acrylate) to allow growth factors to be effective at doses around 300 times lower than currently possible.

These lower doses lower the risk of harmful side effects and reduce the potential cost of treatment, the team noted. Moreoever it is highly efficient as it can stimulate repair exactly at the engineer wants it to.

How It Works

The polymer technique helps a binding protein act as it normally does within the body, Dalby stated, as opposed to the unnaturally large, liquid doses of BMP-2.

“The polymer facilitates a reaction with fibronectin, a protein which binds growth factors to allow the body to regenerate,” Dalby explained. Cells open up the fibronectin in body tissues to allow growth factors to attach and allow regeneration to begin, he said.

“The ease in which the polymer can be used to do something very biologically complex is extraordinary and mimics the way growth factors are used naturally in the body,” he added.

Glasgow research

The technique uses a unique property of the polymer poly(ethyl acrylate) to allow growth factors to be effective at doses around 300 times lower than currently possible, according to the research.

“By coating materials such as hip implants, bone grafts or spinal cages in a thin layer of this polymer, we can encourage bone regeneration targeted on the areas where they’re required,” said Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, the university’s chair of Biomedical Engineering.

Future Applications

According to Salmeron-Sanchez, bone is the second-most commonly grafted material in medicine after blood, which opens the potential for many applications of the team’s process. It also offers the potential of making growth factor treatments much more effective and much more affordable.

"For example, people who have suffered injuries in car accidents, or lost significant areas of bone during cancer treatments, could well be treated more effectively using these techniques," he said.

“The broken bones osteoporosis causes can often be debilitating and life-changing,” National Osteoporosis Society representative Sarah Leyland told The Scotsman.

“Although much more work is needed into this area, the National Osteoporosis Society welcomes any research which aims to improve our understanding of bone regeneration and healing and helps those affected by fractures.”

The engineers are currently seeking additional funding to further explore its findings. The first human trial could be underway in the next five years, Salmeron-Sanchez added.

The research paper, “Material-driven fibronectin assembly for high-efficiency presentation of growth factors,” was recently published in the scientific journal Science Advances.

Research was funded by the European Research Council, the U.K. Medical Research Council and the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship program.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating chemistry; Coating Materials; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Paint; Raw materials; Research and development

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