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Medicine Science

Dissolvable Glass For Bone Repair 168

gpronger writes "Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Glass Will Certainly Mend Them! The old schoolyard ditty may be changed to reflect developments using metallic glass that will dissolve in situ instead of the traditional stainless steel or titanium hardware, which require removal by surgery once the bone has healed. Physics World reports that researcher Jörg Löffler at ETH Zurich has created an alloy of 60% magnesium, 35% zinc, and 5% calcium, molded in the form of metallic glass. Through rapid cooling, the alloy forms a molecularly amorphous glass that slowly dissolves over time, supporting the injury long enough for healing, then slowly dissolving away."
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Dissolvable Glass For Bone Repair

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  • Somehow... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:34PM (#29618225)

    I doubt the little schoolyard ditty will be changed.

  • by BigSes ( 1623417 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:35PM (#29618227)
    No, really.
  • end to casts? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaerD ( 954222 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:35PM (#29618231)
    Will this mean an end to casts? If this could be put in place and support the bone from the inside while you heal, why would we need external casts? Especially if it's injectable in some way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jameskojiro ( 705701 )

      Only if you have a compound fracture, if you have a internal only fracture you will still need a cast.

      • by skine ( 1524819 )

        Just because you won't need surgery to get it out doesn't mean you won't need surgery to put it in.

    • Re:end to casts? (Score:5, Informative)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:40PM (#29618291)

      excessive soluble Magnesium in the body depletes calcium.
      I'm sure they probably have thought about this. One could see this working both ways. Perhaps having magnesium in the replacment helps precipitate calcium in a useful place near the bone replacment. On the other hand soluble magnesium is know to rob bones of calcium, so a large source of soluble calcium especially concntrated near a weak bone might undermine it.

      I have no idea what the right answer is here, but it does seem like something that need to be considered strongly.

    • Re:end to casts? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:41PM (#29618311) Journal
      I'd be extremely surprised if it did.

      Casts are annoying; but they are dirt cheap, can be performed with comparatively minimal training, and are pretty low risk. For bone breaks that are easily accessible and not too complicated, they are going to be hard to dislodge.

      This stuff would, if it works, turn a two surgery process(one to implant, one to explant) for dealing with nastier sorts of bone breaks into a one surgery process. That would be a win. Turning a zero surgery process into a one surgery process would be a major loss.
      • Not every implant surgery gets a return trip to claim the hardware back. My kid has a fair bit of titanium in his lower tibia and fibula from a closed (i.e., not compound) "sliding into base" accident 10 years ago; as far as I know, its' in there forever.

        That said, if the implants were basically replaced slowly with bone, that would be better.

        • Re:end to casts? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:12PM (#29618671) Homepage

          Yep. I was going to comment that I have a 10" piece of titanium in my leg from a motorcycle accident, and at my 1-year followup appointment, there was no talk of removing it. I believe that these days they tend to leave the hardware in unless it's causing problems.

          • Same here - 8 yrs ago a titanium rod was put through the middle of my left humerus. Still there today, doc said removal was only necessary if it caused problems.
          • Re:end to casts? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Psion ( 2244 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:33PM (#29619767)
            I am holding in my hands ... well, no, I held it, but now I've put it down so I could type ... the implant used twenty years ago to pin my femur back together after a slip on ice. Now that's hardly a comment on modern procedures, BUT while the device was implanted, I was quite aware of it and it impeded my mobility somewhat. I had difficulty squatting, couldn't raise that foot behind my head, etc., although I kept trying. When the device was removed nine months later, the difference was noticeable and my efforts to recover lost mobility resulted in startling flexibility in that leg.

            My point is that I'd hope parts aren't left in place if they interfere even minimally with movement.

            As a side note, I enjoy handing the part to folks and asking them what they think it is. Typically, they'll turn it over and over, examining the screw and slide mechanism (this part went into the femur's ball) and puzzle over it for a while. The usual guess is "bicycle part". When I tell them what it is, while they're still handling it, the result is usually a study in ballistic trajectories. Even funnier was the little bit of gristle left lodged in the threads that, before it completely decayed away, would invariably invoke a look of horror when I pointed out it was a chunk of me.
            • by Psion ( 2244 )
              'Evoke' you idiot. Not 'invoke'. Now go put your nose back in the dictionary again and don't take it out until you can post on Slashdot without making that kind of embarrassing mistake again.

              Sorry for the confusion here, folks.
              -The other half of Psion's brain.
            • by sjs132 ( 631745 )

              My son and daughter both had skull surgeries... while not replacement parts, they used a "sugar based polymer" screw to hold the bone plates together while the skull was healing. The cool part of that was that eventually they were absorbed into the same plates that they anchored. Pretty cool tech. Now, I'm assuming there is a strengh issue that would eliminate that polymer combo from use in broken bones, but a skull doesn't do any work or scaffolding of the body, so I guess the screw would him limited s

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            A friend of mine had a pin inserted after a nasty accident. A few years later he had another nasty accident and BENT his leg. On the positive side, we discovered that his leg makes a pretty decent shortwave antenna now.

          • It tends to be on request that they are removed. Usually by people who have read what happens if you break a leg which has a metal pin already in it, they tend to break at the ends of the pin which is usually close to a joint and can be much worse breaks.
      • Sounds to me like exactly how the US Medical System works.
    • Re:end to casts? (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheCycoONE ( 913189 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:41PM (#29618317)

      This technique is a lot more invasive than casting, and it's not injectable. They cut you open and place it just like the metal counterpart; the improvement is that you don't have to be cut open twice. So, better than bolting a metal rod down your leg, then removing it a couple months later, much worse than putting some plaster over your skin to keep you in place.

      • Been there done that, wouldn't recommend it. I had a compression fracture of my left femur (that hurts!) and elected for a steel rod rather than a cast. If give the choice again I'd go with a cast. Unsurprisingly having, in my case, your thigh cut open to the bone, the core of the bone hollowed out and a steel rod inserted hurts real bad for a long time. When I tried to regain use of my leg with the rod still in I found the screws irritated tissue when I walked or, later, ran for more than a couple of block

      • This technique is a lot more invasive than casting, and it's not injectable. They cut you open and place it just like the metal counterpart; the improvement is that you don't have to be cut open twice.

        This would have been nice when I broke a finger about a year ago. Because the tension of the tendons would pull it out of a "set" they had to drill and insert two wires - then later open me up to pull them back out again.

        A couple pins that dissolved gracefully once the bone had knit would have been a great im

    • I'd still think an external cast/brace is preferable to the surgery required to implant such a device, so long as the injury is not so series as to require surgery in the first place.

      To say nothing of the costs...

    • External bone-setting and casts are less invasive than puncturing/cutting &c. I would rather keep my skin intact, thanks.

    • The cast also keeps you from whacking your appendage into things while the bone is trying to heal. It's not fun, but it serves as both a constant reminder to be careful, and as a bit of armor for random bumps.
    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      IANAD (i'm not a doctor) but if you're under 20 (when most bone breaks occur, until you turn about 45-60), most breaks are "green tree" fractures requiring about 2-4 weeks in a cast or splint. If you break it again to a full break (which I did) you're still only looking at 4-6 weeks, tops before the cast comes off. Casts are super cheap, require zero surgery (other than the doctor "setting" the bone - done externally, no knives needed) and are generally completely non-invasive. IMO this is vastly preferable

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MBGMorden ( 803437 )

      Possibly, but I doubt you'd regain use of the limb while it heals though. Such a thing is nothing new though.

      I fell down a flight of stairs in 2001 and broke my leg pretty severely. Compound fracture in 5 places. I ended up having to get a plate and screws added to that leg (along with one big screw to prevent me from turning my ankle during this time - that one was removed later by the rest of the hardware is still in there).

      I only wore a cast for a week. For the rest of the time I was given one of tho

  • OB: Unbreakable. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B5_geek ( 638928 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:37PM (#29618245)

    They call him Mr.Glass

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:37PM (#29618253) Journal

    My group is cooperating with a startup that makes, among other things, glass microbeads covered with nanoparticles of whose composition I am not allowed to speak. These nanoparticles cause bone cell growth. In fact, they cause stem cell differentiation into osteoblasts, which I think is beyong cool. The glass slowly dissolves in the body and the bone remains. Our hypothesis (backed by some experimental data) is that these beads will restore fractured bones, such as spinal vertebrae, to patients with extreme osteoporosis.

    Rarely have I wished success to a company, as in this case. Perhaps seeing my aunt succumb to multiple spinal fractures scared the shit out of me.

    • by jhfry ( 829244 )

      My neighbor's, recently deceased mother suffered from those as well. Prior to her death she was so hunched over that She had to sleep in a chair and couldn't see people above their waist when she was standing, unless she turned and looked to the side.

      She looked almost exactly like this: []

      Scary stuff, and I feel for your aunt.

      • Thanks. Her osteoporosis is caused by some kind of cancer. But luckliy, she finally started responding positively to chemo, so here's hoping. She's still (relatively) young, not a typical osteoporosis patient.

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:40PM (#29618295)

    Unlike in a certain X-men movie, this "metallic glass" is NOT going to be injected into living human bodies while molten. It'll be carefully forged in a factory into parts that are currently made out of steel or titanium : various plates, screws, and other orthopedic hardware. For injuries that require surgery, orthopedic surgeons would use these metallic glass parts instead of what they currently use.

    The problem is obvious : it's doubtful that this alloy will be as strong as steel or titanium, and so the screws or plates would have to be thicker and heavier to have the same strength. There's an obvious tradeoff : do you make a bigger incision and drill out bigger holes in the bone to use this dissolvable metallic glass, or do you use conventional hardware? Also, undoubtedly there will be decades of debate over whether the trace minerals leached into the body cause harm or not.

    Bottom line : even if this technology turns out to be safe and effective and is approved for use, it will probably be decades until it is used most of the time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JDevers ( 83155 )

      Not necessarily, one of the biggest problems with metallic inserts is that they are so much stronger than the bone that they can occasionally cause secondary breaks. If this compound was closer to actual bone in strength and flexibility, there may be less of a trade off than you think.

      • by Zerth ( 26112 )

        Plus they cause osteonecrosis when they don't dissapate/flex as much force as bone. If you get a joint replacement in your 20s, you'll probably live long enough to require another when the ends start to decay.

    • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:44PM (#29619135)
      Trace minerals aren't a problem. These aren't trace amounts. You'll notice the choice of metals: calcium, magnesium, and zinc are all things your body needs in non-trace quantities, and is capable of regulating the level of. A few tens of grams of metal, dissolving over a month or two, is a couple hundred mg per day. That's roughly comparable to the FDA recommended daily intake. It would be a lot like taking a extra multivitamin or two a day.
      • It would probably be a lot like pissing away an extra multivitamin or two away a day.

      • Except that your reasoned argument doesn't change the fact that people are scared of things like this. Undoubtedly in 20 years someone will do some kind of research study that implies harm from the extra minerals.

        I mean, cell phone radiation is in the milliwatts, and shouldn't cause more than a trivial amount of heating. Yet, there's a big scare over it, and some legitimate appearing scientific evidence implying that cell phone radiation is very dangerous.

      • You'll notice the choice of metals: calcium, magnesium, and zinc are all things your body needs in non-trace quantities, and is capable of regulating the level of.

        Good observation.

        And I'm sure they'll refine the zinc enough to get all the cadmium out of it. (All but a trace too small to matter, of course. Say: levels far below the levels that would pass the intestinal barrier from a comparable amount of an oral zinc supplement.)

  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:50PM (#29618423) Homepage Journal
    Imagine the Hollywood scripts that could come from this new material. Rather than having adamantium grafted to his skeleton, Wolverine [] could have had glass grafted instead. Then, rather than being a badass unstoppable killing machine, he could gimp around on a cane fantasizing himself to be a super villain before Bruce Willis [] discovers himself to be an unlikely super hero with absolutely no backstory who cannot be broken! We can call the movie "A Tale of Two Unbreakables" and make billiions!. Profit!
    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      Rather than having adamantium grafted to his skeleton, Wolverine [] could have had glass grafted instead.

      Man, you couldn't have included a Spoiler Alert? I was just about to start reading the Wolverine comics, but now that I know he's got an adamantium skeleton (thank you very much), I guess I'll just skip it altogether...

      Ooh! Just got a M Night Shyamalan movie from Netflix starring that guy from Die Hard and that guy from Snakes on a Plane - Off to watch it!

      • M Night Shyamalan

        So that's how you spell it...Slashdot's commentators, almost as effective as Google's "Did you mean..." feature =)

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          The only reason I knew how to spell it was the magic of IMDB [].

          [I had to go check because I almost referred to Samuel L Jackson as that guy from Pee-Wee's Playhouse and had to go verify that it was indeed Laurence Fishburne, not Jackson. Sorry Sammy. My bad - It's been a while since I watched that show.]

  • Dissovable (Score:3, Funny)

    by T3xT ( 1426891 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:53PM (#29618475)
    ...I don't think it means what you think it means.
  • So, we have a metal matrix, in an electrolyte solution. Can we use it as a battery?
  • by Torodung ( 31985 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:16PM (#29618737) Journal []

    In biology, in situ means to examine the phenomenon exactly in place where it occurs (i.e. without moving it to some special medium). This usually means something intermediate between in vivo and in vitro. For example, examining a cell within a whole organ intact and under perfusion may be in situ investigation. This would not be in vivo as the donor is sacrificed before experimentation, but it would not be the same as working with the cell alone (a common scenario in in vitro experiments).

    That is, the use of the phrase in situ implies that the person is dead. in situ literally means "as it is," and is more synonymous with untampered. In a literal sense, the bone could heal by itself in situ, but with an implant, tampering has already occurred, and the process is actually occurring in vivo, in a live organism. It's a minor quibble, but don't use Latin when you can just say "in place," "without further intervention," or "on its own." These would have been better choices, and clearer because they are plain English.


    Spot the English major in this post. :^)

    • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:33PM (#29618997) Homepage Journal

      In medicine, as distinct from biology, "in situ" has long been used to mean "where it already is inside the patient's body," whether "it" is something that occurred internally (e.g. a tumor) or something that was introduced from outside (e.g. orthopedic equipment.) "Dissolvable in situ" is a phrase used to describe dissolving internal sutures, which is probably the precedent here. Sometimes it refers to things that definitely don't dissolve; as a military medic, I often ran across the usage "bullet left in situ" in older patient records ... and that sure as hell constitutes "tampering," I think you'll agree. (This is much, much rarer in modern military medicine; most such records were those of retirees from the Korean War and WW2 eras, although it still does happen even today.) You may not like the usage, but it's standard enough now that calling it a "misuse" is a mistake.

  • Forget this , I am getting my adamatium bondings as soon, as quickly as I can get a few broken bones that would need to be mended.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      We can graft adaatium to your bones, no problem. Of course, it's up to you to heal instantly.

  • by Eggplant62 ( 120514 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:54PM (#29619235)

    Dissolvable is the proper spelling. I can be a moderator nao?

  • Hay marge, what happened to the beer I put in the fridge?
    I was just sitting there, doing my business, when the john just suddenly disappeared.
    Ther were in the underwater aquarium, watching the sharks, when they became involved in a feeding frenzy after the glass partitions ceased partitioning.

  • If this "glass" scaffolding dissolves slowly, I'm guessing it would start out strong and get structurally weaker over time as it thins out. At some point before it is totally dissolved, it will probably be really brittle. Since it is glass-like, I'm guessing that it's possible that it could shatter even though the bone it's attached to has healed and is stronger (imagine a transverse shaking force applied to the bone like you might get when you trip and fall on the ground).

    If the scaffolding does shatter

  • I engineer orthopaedic implants, and one of the things that is very interesting when considering design and excecution of implants is the culture of the physicians who will be using them.

    Physicians who train in different countries (or time periods for that matter) have various preferences on what approaches they use and how they utilize certain devices. What is interesting about this case is that European surgeons are more likely to take hardware OUT of the patient after the fracture is resolved.

    This is in

  • TFS speaks, as if that would mean that the stuff just "vanishes". I bet that's also what the company's marketing department and payed doctors say.

    While in fact, I'd bet money that it just goes to the blood stream and then to every part of the body, where it forms new complexes, and lets the patient die 15 years later, as soon as when nobody thinks of is as a reason anymore.

    Works for so many other "solutions" it's not even funny, so this would not be an exception.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.