Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Plant Cellulose Bone Grafts

Researchers at the University of British Columbia, in Canada, in conjunction with McMaster University have developed a new material, made of plant cellulose, that could provide scaffolding for growing bone.  The material is made by extracting nanocrystals from plant cellulose and treating them so that they link up and form a strong, lightweight aerogel. The sponge-like aerogel can expand or compress as needed to fill in a bone cavity. 


“Most bone graft or implants are made of hard, brittle ceramic that doesn’t always conform to the shape of the hole, and those gaps can lead to poor growth of the bone and implant failure,” said Daniel Osorio, study author and PhD student in chemical engineering at McMaster University. “We created this cellulose nanocrystal aerogel as a more effective alternative to these synthetic materials.”


Nanocrystal cellulose aerogel
Nanocrystal cellulose aerogel
Credit: University of British Columbia


From the University of British Columbia article: "For their research, the team worked with two groups of rats, with the first group receiving the aerogel implants and the second group receiving none. Results showed that the group with implants saw 33 per cent more bone growth at the three-week mark and 50 per cent more bone growth at the 12-week mark, compared to the controls.

'These findings show, for the first time in a lab setting, that a cellulose nanocrystal aerogel can support new bone growth,' said study co-author Emily Cranston, a professor of wood science and chemical and biological engineering who holds the President’s Excellence Chair in Forest Bio-products at UBC. She added that the implant should break down into non-toxic components in the body as the bone starts to heal.

The innovation can potentially fill a niche in the $2-billion bone graft market in North America, said study co-author Kathryn Grandfield, a professor of materials science and engineering, and biomedical engineering at McMaster who supervised the work."


Read more about bone grafts made from plant cellulose at University of British Columbia.