Breakthrough: Dublin scientists create bone repair tech for racehorses (video)

20 Jan 2015

Mark Ferguson, SFI director-general, with Damien English, TD, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation; Prof Stefano Sanvito, acting director of AMBER; and Prof Fergal O'Brien, deputy director of AMBER

The AMBER materials science research centre in Dublin has revealed a new patented bone repair technology that has enabled an injured racehorse to return to the tracks.

The patented bone repair technology has been developed by a team of AMBER researchers within the Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) led by Prof Fergal O’Brien, deputy director of AMBER.

It consists of collagen and hydroxyapatite, components native to bone, formed into a 3D porous ‘scaffold’ that acts as a bone graft substitute. Bone cells and blood vessels ‘cling’ to the scaffold, allowing for new tissue regeneration. 

RCSI spin-out company SurgaColl Technologies will bring the bone repair technology (known as HydroxyColl) to market.

Regulatory approval for human use is forecast in the coming months and implantation in patients suffering from large bone defects planned this year.

The first clinical use of the HydroxyColl was on a two-year-old thoroughbred filly that had a large swelling in her jaw caused by a complex aneurysmal cyst. 

As a result of the cyst, the bone in the filly’s jaw was at risk of fracture and she was unable to chew adequately. The outcome is generally poor for aneurysmal cysts and euthanasia of the animal often necessary.  

Dr Florent David at University College Dublin’s Veterinary Hospital removed the cyst and implanted sheets of the scaffold. The procedure has enabled repair of the bone tissue followed by restoration of normal bone shape and function. 

Since surgery, the horse (Annagh Haven) has returned to racing and has won or been placed in six of her races to date. 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years