By using techniques normally used to make catalytic converters for cars, researchers at WMG at the University of Warwick are now developing a method to produce synthetic bone for tissue engineering.
The team is working closely with Warwick Ventures, the University's technology transfer office, in order to look for a suitable partner to help commercialise the technology.
WMG's Dr Kajal Mallick in collaboration with his postgraduate researcher James Meredith is developing the technique, which, they believe could offer substantial clinical benefits to patients undergoing bone implant surgery.
The technique involves state-of-the-art extrusion of the implant material through a mould, to produce a 3-dimensional honeycomb texture, with uniform pores throughout.
The surgeon would then be able to precisely match the defect by sculpting the material. After implantation bone cells will be transported into the implant and begin to form new bone.
"We worked with a Japanese company which manufactures catalytic converters and used their facility to produce samples which we could then test in the laboratory," explained Mallick.
She added: "We found that we were able to use calcium phosphates - a family of bioceramics that are routinely used in bone implant operations, but by using this technique we were able to improve significantly both the strength and porosity of the implant.
"At the present time, there is no product available in the market place that satisfies both these key properties simultaneously. It is nearly an ideal scaffold structure for efficient blood flow and formation of new bone cells."
The increased strength of the material means it could be used in spinal surgery, or in revision hip and knee operations, where currently non-degradable materials such as titanium or steel may be used.
The increased and interconnected porosity provides the advantage that the implant can quickly be filled with blood vessels, resulting in a more rapid healing process.
James Meredith, who is working to complete an Engineering Doctorate in this research area, said: "The synthetic bone we are developing is as strong as normal healthy bone yet porous enough to allow bone cells to inhabit it and generate new bone. Over a period of time, we expect the synthetic bone will resorb, leaving only natural bone. I hope that if we can find an industrial partner to take this to market, we will enable treatment of conditions which up to this point have only been possible using metal replacement parts or low strength foam-like bone substitutes"
The researchers will be presenting their work at the national university technology showcase event, Bioversity.