Can Clay Rebuild Your Bones?

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Yes, nano-clays modified with amino acids can coax new bone growth

As we age, our bones become weaker. They fall prey to illnesses like arthritis. They are also rather brittle and prone to fractures. Depending on the severity of injuries, they can of course be fixed, and joints replaced. But people then often spend their remaining lifetime with a limp, or worse, in a wheelchair. However, can human bones be re-grown? According to a new study, they can be.

A team of US researchers from North Dakota State University have found that they can use nano-sized clay to regenerate human bones. According to the study, clay structures can be modified with amino acids—the building blocks of life. These modified nano-clays can thus coax new bone growth. The nano-sized clays are used to design scaffolds that can mineralise bone matter such as hydroxyapatite. The nano-clays perform a dual function. While they enable the scaffold to bear load as the bone regenerates, they also impart bone-forming abilities to the scaffold. This scaffolding is composed of bio-degradable components. While it assists cells in generating bone, over time it dissolves and gets absorbed into the body.

The study, which was published recently in Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A, was conducted by Dr Kalpana Katti, Dr Dinesh Katti and Avinash Ambre. The have been working in the field of bone replacement materials for over a decade. According to the authors, their discovery is the result of a long-sustained effort involving simulations and modelling.

They write in the journal: ‘Earlier, in our prior work on polymer clay nanocomposites (PCNs), we have developed a unified theory on the mechanisms of mechanical property enhancement in these composites with addition of nanoscale clay particulates. This theory is based on an ‘altered phase model’ which is developed through extensive experimental and multiscale modelling (molecular dynamics to 3D finite element modelling) efforts. Here, we incorporate the results of the theory into design of new nanoclay based biopolymer hydroxyapatite nanocomposites for bone tissue engineering applications.’ They state that their findings hold significant promise for the future of regenerative medicine.