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Medicine Science

Scientists Create Artificial Bones From Wood 138

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the sticks-and-bones dept.
steve_thatguy writes "According to Discovery News, Italian scientists have made artificial bone from wood. Created by blasting wood blocks with heat until they are nearly pure carbon then coating them with calcium, the scientists say the material allows bones to heal faster and more securely. Unlike titanium, the wood-based artificial bones flex slightly much like real bone, and the porous nature of the wood allows for better bio-activity with surrounding tissue. Though human testing is still likely years away, the material is currently being used successfully in sheep and may have other industrial applications."
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Scientists Create Artificial Bones From Wood

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  • by oahazmatt (868057) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:06PM (#29016145) Journal
    Well that's not good. Now if they bleed they're going to attract ants.
  • by goffster (1104287) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:08PM (#29016161)

    They now have hope

  • by mr_flea (776124) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:09PM (#29016165)
    So... if they're giving sheep wooden legs... does that mean they're creating pirate sheep? Are they also giving them eye patches and pet parrots?
  • mmmmhm (Score:4, Funny)

    by nnnich (1454535) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:10PM (#29016185)
    let washington's dentist be chastised no more!
  • by srussia (884021) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:12PM (#29016223)
    I'll be claiming me mateys...arr!
  • by bughunter (10093) <<ten.knilhtrae> <ta> <retnuhgub>> on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:13PM (#29016241) Journal

    ... to invent something that turns orthopedic surgeons into woody boners.

    (Yes. I went there.)

    • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:21PM (#29016359)
      AND mix in sheep. Urk.
    • by ksheff (2406)
      Hell, most of their surgical instruments look like something out of a carpenters shop, so this isn't surprising.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tepples (727027)

        Hell, most of their surgical instruments look like something out of a carpenters shop

        Only if the surgeon's name happens to be Dr. Geppetto Baccigaluppo [barcelonareview.com].

      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        A physician was asked what course had helped him the most in his career. He replied "carpentry."

      • by reboot246 (623534)
        It is true for orthopedic surgeons. They use saws, drills, rasps, hammers, and such. I woke up during my second hip replacement and I could hear power tools!

        These new "bones" in the article look interesting, but I'll take my titanium joints any day. I love setting off metal detectors and seeing the look on the rent-a-cop's face. :)
        • by fractoid (1076465)

          I woke up during my second hip replacement and I could hear power tools!

          Urp. That made me feel distinctly queasy.

          I love the idea of upgrades for my body though. If I can make my car better by installing higher quality parts, why shouldn't I do it for myself?

  • Bones out of wood. Wow! I guess Buster's upgrade to wooden bones was prescient.
  • by Sta7ic (819090) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:14PM (#29016253)
    That's what I call some baaaahhhd medicine.
  • Wow (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Now the goverment is going to create the worst mutant ever: Weapon W.

  • by basementman (1475159) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:17PM (#29016305) Homepage

    I've been making bones from wood since puberty, these scientists obviously never took health class in middle school.

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:20PM (#29016357)
    Pinocchio: 'Who needs a girlfriend now that I have sandpaper.'
  • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:27PM (#29016443)

    ...the material is currently being used successfully in sheep and may have other industrial applications/b>

    Mutant zombie sheep used as forced labor in factories?

  • by bradorsomething (527297) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:29PM (#29016457)
    Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We can make him stronger... faster... using the latest in prefabrication materials from Home Depot. He is... the Sixty-Five Dollar Man.
  • Creating artificial wood from boners!

    Now at your local brothel!

  • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:46PM (#29016625)

    "I saw a man with a wooden leg, and a real foot." -- Steven Wright

  • by ak_hepcat (468765) <leif @ d e n a l i . net> on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:49PM (#29016653) Homepage Journal

    Pirates have been replacing damaged or missing limbs with replacements made of wood for years!

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Pirates have been replacing damaged or missing limbs with replacements made of wood for years!

      And by using pirate methods it just goes to show how scientists from all fields are trying to reverse global warming.

  • until your new bone fractures. then you get splinters of wood all over your body, which surely can't be good
    • Apparently, not only did you not read the article, you didn't even bother to read the _Summary_ either:
      "To create the bone substitute, the scientists start with a block of wood -- red oak, rattan and sipo work best -- and heat it until all that remains is pure carbon, which is basically charcoal .
  • Got wood for sheep?

  • Oh dear God. Have we learned NOTHING from X-Men Comics?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Tom_Cassidy#Transformation [wikipedia.org]
  • I said Cyberpunk, not Steampunk!

  • by gweihir (88907)

    At $850 per block or bone, doctors and medical companies will never go for it. Not enough profit to be made.

    • Of course with Obamacare the government will pay for it at the going rate of hammers (govt/norm) where a normal $20 hammer costs the govt $2000 (or more).

    • At $850 per block or bone, doctors and medical companies will never go for it. Not enough profit to be made.

      You got it backward. With cheaper materials come higher profits. Instead of spending $13,000 on an operation they charge you $13,500 for, they can spend $130 on an operation they charge you $10,000 for. Doctors and hospitals don't make money by using, then having to discard, extremely expensive equipment.

      • Trust me, the implant manufacturers get way more money, than the average orthopaedic surgeon for, say a hip replacement. The surgeon gets around $1000 from insurance companies(or medicare) which includes 3 months follow up visits, while the implant manufacturer gets around $7000 for their artificial hip.

        The biggest expense in most surgeries is from the implants. Why? - because of all the liability lawsuits, which require exhaustive testing, sterilization, rechecking, etc.

        People love to sue anything with

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by iroll (717924)

          Just to play devils advocate, there was a situation only a few years ago where a hip manufacturer failed to re-validate its manufacturing process after an equipment change. They ended up shipping contaminated hips (thin veneer of lubricant from the machine), an entire batch of which all failed catastrophically.

          I'm a fan of tort reform too, and I agree that (many but not all) of these prices are somewhat artificially inflated, but all of that exhaustive testing needs to happen. Unfortunately, in our system

    • by Kingrames (858416)
      $640,000 should be cheap enough for anybody.
  • Safer than Titaniam (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LionKimbro (200000) on Monday August 10, 2009 @06:11PM (#29016903) Homepage

    "Paradoxically, metal or ceramic implants meant to prevent bone breaks can sometimes cause them. Current implants are significantly harder than the bone that surrounds them. Natural bone can flex slightly. In fact, stress helps build stronger bones. However, the harder implants can apply so much stress to a particular area that the bone snaps. Softer wooden implants might cause fewer bone breaks."

    Hm, this is like what I learned in Structures: or Why Things Don't Fall Down. [amazon.com]

    The author noted that insurance companies, finding a weak wall, would often over-retrofit it. Then the building collapses, becase the weight that would have been born by the wall is displaced onto the other walls.

    He also wrote about the cult of metal. The only reason engines are made of metal, he explained, is because they have to contain very high temperatures. If it were not for that, they could be made far more efficiently with hoses and bladders. He challenged the readers to come up with ways to make things that are presently made out of metal out of other materials -- such as wood and bird feathers.

    • by imsabbel (611519)

      Somehow, those two paragraphs dont make any sense at all.

      a) Why would a strong wall move stop bearing load and overload others?
      b) There are quite a few reasons besides temperature to make stuff of metals. But why, go ahead with the birth feathers:)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822)

        a) Why would a strong wall move stop bearing load and overload others?

        I'm not sure if this is what GPs source was saying, but I would think the real problem with the extra-strong wall is the same with the extra-strong bones (if there is a problem with the former at all): it doesn't flex, so if its attached firmly to another weaker section, and that weaker section is subject to a load which causes the weaker section to deform, instead of the stronger section deforming elastically and removing the strain on t

        • a) Why would a strong wall move stop bearing load and overload others?

          My question too. Say you have a bunch of same-length beams all axially loaded by a rigid plate. It's a statically-indeterminate problem, and the extra equations come from the requirement imposed by the geometry that all beams deform by the same amount. What you get is that the stiffer beams carry more load. In fact, increasing the stiffness of one beam decreases the load carried by the other beams. So am I missing something?

    • by iroll (717924) on Monday August 10, 2009 @06:25PM (#29017045) Homepage

      Right. All levity aside, this could be a revolutionary medical step. Artificial bone is one of the most challenging materials science problems going, and has been for decades.

      When an artificial hip, or other load-bearing bone implant, has a higher modulus than bone (and they invariably do), they cause the load to be transmitted unevenly to the bone. The artificial hip is on a pin that goes down into the marrow on the top of the femur. In natural loading, each segment of bone (taken from top to bottom) is loaded equally in compression. With an artificial hip implanted, some of the force is transmitted directly to a deeper part of the femur. The top of the bone is loaded less heavily than it would have been under natural circumstances?

      Who cares? Your bones do. They're dynamic. When they're unloaded, they break down. So now, by unloading the top of the femur, you've given your body permission to dissolve it. Now your hip implant is bare, and only being held by its tip--fractures are the final result. This is why a hip replacement has a "lifespan" of only a few years--young people who have hips replaced have to go get new ones at some point, and have to lose a chunk of femur each time.

      Things have probably improved since I was an engineering undergrad discussing these problems (~8 yrs ago), but those are the big issues. I'm going to be really curious to read more about this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Grishnakh (216268)

        Sorry for the ignorant question, as I'm a EE, not a doctor or biomed expert.

        If hip replacements cause the body to dissolve the top of the femur because of this loading issue, then why not just replace the entire femur with a metal replacement? Why try to join two dissimilar materials this way?

        What's so hard about simply making artificial replacement bones? If you replace the entire bone, it seems that this loading issue shouldn't be a problem any more, and the only challenge is how to attach tendons and c

        • by iroll (717924) on Monday August 10, 2009 @07:38PM (#29017801) Homepage

          My BS is Bioengineering (Materials), but I've been a physics teacher since I graduated, so I'm a little rusty. Take this with the requisite grain of salt =)

          You're right, if you could just replace the whole femur, you'd eliminate the loading biocompatibility problems. The problem is that the femur as-a-whole is part of a complex and interconnected system, and would be many orders of magnitude more difficult to replace than the head alone. That tendons-and-cartilage problem is much, much harder than it sounds.

          For starters, the top of the femur isn't connected to any muscles or ligaments, so we don't have to worry about reattaching them. Once the head of the femur is dislocated from the hip socket, the socket is replaced by a bioengineered version, and the top of the femur is cut off and replaced. The new ball/socket joint is reconnected, and the muscles naturally fold back around it.

          Sounds simple, but this by itself is one of the most traumatic "routine" operations in the book. It's a massive, multi-hour undertaking, and requires a lot of blood and a lot of elbow grease. Removing the entire femur, while preserving all of the soft tissue around it, would be unimaginably difficult by comparison.

          To replace the whole femur, all of the tendons and ligaments attached to the lower femur would have to be removed. Attaching them to a bioengineered substrate may be difficult or impossible. These aren't trivial connections, either. They're attached to the strongest muscles on your body, so they are subject to the most extreme forces in the body--hundreds if not thousands of PSI during heavy exertion (running, jumping, etc).

          Titanium, in particular, would be a great candidate for a whole-bone replacement, if all it had to do was be a "mechanical" member. But getting the body to integrate with titanium--which you'd need, to keep those ligaments attached--is insidiously hard. One of the reasons why this new material is exciting is because the body integrates it much differently, by using it as a frame for normal growth (filling in the holes in the artificial bone with natural bone). Titanium is treated differently--the body effectively walls it off with a special type of soft tissue. It's "biocompatible" only in the sense that it doesn't provoke any kind of dangerous immune response; it is not a good substrate for normal tissue growth. Very, very few materials are, and most of them are highly engineered plastics with special protein coatings.

          You also can't easily engineer a "half" replacement for the knee--knee replacements replace both sides of the joint. So, now you're chopping up the top of the tibia to provide a mate for your artificial femur. Which leads you right back to the same kind of problem.

          Hip replacements used to be much worse than they are now; the mechanics have improved by leaps and bounds. They've gotten to the point where most people who need one (elderly, >60 yrs) will ONLY need one during their lives; it's younger athletes (Bo Jackson) and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who have the bulk of their life ahead of them who are in danger of needing multiple rounds of replacement.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by spineboy (22918)

            Hips have made excellent progress, with newer (metal on metal) and (ceramic on ceramic), or ceramic on metal, the wear rate is minimal, and many are thought to last a persons lifetime, if they avoid stressful things like running/jumping. So patients in their 30's are getting them now.
            Knees - not so good - still about 12-15 years

            Total femur replacements usually take about 4 hours, but a routine hip can be done in 90 minutes.

      • by spineboy (22918)

        Many implants are only coated at the ends to avoid this problem. Check out the compress system by biomet - bone actually grows with time.

  • SheepShit!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ElitistWhiner (79961) on Monday August 10, 2009 @06:22PM (#29017023) Journal

    Sheep die at the slightest insult to their systems. A runny nose is a death sentence. I find it unbelievable that sheep are recuperating on their own with the assistance of some charcoal and calcium

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sheep die at the slightest insult to their systems. A runny nose is a death sentence. I find it unbelievable that sheep are recuperating on their own with the assistance of some charcoal and calcium

      Mint jelly and a roasting pan tend to be fatal as well.

  • by plisskin (979687) on Monday August 10, 2009 @06:49PM (#29017331)
  • Hey, hon, does your leg of lamb taste like toothpicks?
  • "Heating them until they're almost pure carbon..."

    Why not just use carbon? Why start with wood at all?

  • by kuzb (724081) on Monday August 10, 2009 @07:19PM (#29017615)
    ...until your first termite infestation :(
  • by EWAdams (953502) on Monday August 10, 2009 @07:25PM (#29017665) Homepage

    When you take wood and heat it in such a way that almost only pure carbon is left, it's called charcoal. I bet they avoided that little term because it doesn't sound nearly as cool (or strong) as wood.

    • When you take wood and heat it in such a way that almost only pure carbon is left, it's called charcoal. I bet they avoided that little term because it doesn't sound nearly as cool (or strong) as wood.

      most people would think of Kingston briquettes, not lump charcoal. There's definitely some structure left in lump charcoal, though I don't know if it's enough to matter here.

      They also might just be heating it enough to break down certain sugars - there's a kind of rot-resistant wood that's basically just cook

  • Pirate sheep rejoice!

    This almost makes up for the advantage of Velcro gloves.
  • I, for one, welcome our pirate sheep overlords...

  • I got yer bone made outta wood right here.

  • Wooden bones => bridge => floats => weighs the same as a duck => witch => burn her!
  • Ah, the sheep, a stellar piece of industrial machinery.

  • Yarrr!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Quixadhal (45024) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @01:55AM (#29020017) Homepage Journal

    Yarrrr... me peg leg'll be worth a few bottles o rum afterall!

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