A breakthrough in polymer development means that soon there may be a radical new treatment for people with broken bones - a special kind of material that can 'glue' the bone back together and support it while it heals.
The material is designed to break down as the bone regrows leaving only natural tissue.
Scientists at CSIRO Molecular Science have developed a biodegradable polymer that can be used in the human body. Not only is it biodegradable and biocompatible, it can be formulated as an injectable gel which cures in-situ or on-demand by promoting tissue growth. The polymer's rate of degradation can also be controlled.
"Synthetic polymers offer a number of advantages over ceramic and natural polymer-based materials," says CSIRO Molecular Science Chief, Dr Annabelle Duncan,
"We envisage that this polymer technology could be tailored for applications in orthopaedics, orthodontics, drug delivery, wound care, tissue engineering and cartilage repair," Dr Duncan says
One of the inventors of the polymer, Dr Thilak Gunatillake, plans to apply it initially in the form of a bone glue for fracture repair.
He says that the material has a distinct advantage in this area due to its combination of injectability, adhesiveness and excellent mechanical strength.
Further research is planned to demonstrate the polymer's ability to deliver cells or biological agents to accelerate tissue regrowth.
"The use of the polymer for guided bone regrowth is not only applicable to the orthopaedic area, but also in related applications such as periodontal surgery and dental implants", Dr Gunatillake says.
A spin-off company, Polymerco Pty Ltd, has been established by CSIRO and Xceed Biotechnology to develop this revolutionary new biodegradable polymer technology for medical device applications.
"Xceed will invest $5.1 million into Polymerco and both CSIRO and Xceed will own 50 per cent," says the Chief Executive Officer of Xceed Biotechnology, Mr David McAuliffe,
"The formation of PolymerCo Pty Ltd is an exciting development and an example of CSIRO's commercialisation strategy in action. We are looking forward to a profitable relationship with CSIRO as we progress the technology through to products."
CSIRO and Polymerco inventors are presenting papers on the new technology at the 7thWorld Biomaterials Congress in Sydney from 17 to 21 May, 2004.
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