Irish implant breakthrough could treat one of the trickiest bone infections

30 Jan 2019

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Researchers from RCSI have developed a new bone infection treatment using an implant made from copper-rich glass.

Even though someone who has brittle bones may joke that they are made of glass, a new breakthrough by an international team led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) is taking this somewhat literally.

Publishing its findings in Biomaterials, the researchers described the development of a new treatment for a challenging bone infection called osteomyelitis using a special implant made from copper-infused glass.

The glass in the porous scaffold implant attracts blood vessels and bone cells, accelerating bone repair. Additionally, the copper ions in the implant prevent bacteria from growing, meaning it doesn’t require any antibiotics, thus giving it a significant advantage over other forms of treatment.

Under existing treatments of osteomyelitis, a patient would have to undergo weeks of high-dose antibiotic therapy as well as possibly requiring surgery or bone grafting. Typically, these combined treatments have a failure rate of around 30pc.

People can develop this bone infection from broken bones, severe tooth decay and deep puncture wounds, among other causes. In the worst cases, osteomyelitis can result in amputations or be fatal.

“Osteomyelitis is notoriously difficult to treat. Further work on the back of this research could lead to the complete development of a single-stage, off-the-shelf treatment,” said first author of the study, Emily Ryan.

“This in turn could reduce the need for antibiotics and bone grafting – thus also addressing issues with antibiotic resistance.”

Speaking of the future of this research, principal investigator Prof Fergal O’Brien said: “We are looking forward to developing and testing this treatment for osteomyelitis and for other infections, too. This platform system could be further modified and used to deliver a variety of other non-antibiotic, antimicrobial, metal ion-doped minerals.”

Funded by the Irish Research Council, European Research Council and the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) centre, international researchers were based at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic