Fracture Putty for Broken Bones

Researchers here in Houston are close to developing a radically new way to mend broken bones. They call it "fracture putty", and it works exactly the same way ordinary household putty works. Jim Bell has more.

Fracture putty is a bio-compatible putty-like compound that will be injected under the skin onto and around a major compound bone fracture. 

Here's where it gets radical. The putty will solidify and hold the shattered bone pieces together, and its biological elements will activate the victim's own stem cells to help the bone heal and regenerate. Dr. Mauro Ferrari at the UT Health Science Center says it could eliminate the need for amputation, which is now the most common way of dealing with massive compound fractures.

"The hope is here that we can actually provide some alignment, provide some initial support, perhaps externally, for the bone that got fractured, but then, rapidly, will provide load bearing capabilities that will support the weight of the person, and it will degrade over time, giving rise of course to the regrowth of the bone itself." 

This work is financed by a Department of Defense contract, and Ferrari says if fracture putty lives up to expectations, soldiers wounded in combat or by roadside bombs could regain full use of shattered arms or legs.  He says early clinical trials show these hopes are realistic.

"There already are demonstrations in patients, in actual patients, done by our colleagues, that show that it can regrow bone, even large bone, of the arm."

Ferrari says it helps to think of fracture putty as a cast inside the broken limb, but with a big difference. This cast is alive.

"It's got these biological reactive components, and some live cells that come into it and start generating bone, and start connecting with the existing bone stems.  So it is a cast, but it is a heck of a smart cast and it degrades over time."

Ferrari says fracture putty will revolutionize orthopedic medicine, because it has a universe of possible uses in the military and in civilian emergency rooms, but it's going to take three to five years for it to go into general use.  The Defense Department is paying for this research at the UT Health Science Center, Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University, but Ferrari says the results will be shared with the world. 

Jim Bell, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

image of Fracture putty is a bio-compatible putty-like compound that will be injected under the skin onto and around a major compound bone fracture

Fracture putty for traumatic bone regeneration

Panel 1: The fracture putty (or BioNanoScaffold) composite material is implanted in the site of the shattered bone. Growth factors are released from the implant and recruit the patient's cells. The putty is load-bearing, so the patient is able to walk while the bone heals.

Panel 2:
The fracture putty is infiltrated by cells which begin to create new bone. At the same time, the material constituting the fracture putty, starts degrading.

Panel 3: The degradation of the fracture putty gradually transfers the weight of the patient to the regenerating bone, aiding in its functional recovery.

Panel 4:
Several months after injury, the architecture and function of the bone are fundamentally restored.



Permission for the use of this image was given by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.