Bioactive glass implant uses copper to fight bone infection

Researchers in Ireland have developed a bioactive glass implant rich in copper that can be used to treat the bone infection osteomyelitis.

Bioactive glass
(Credit: National Institutes of Health)

Led by a team at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), the study set out to find a one-step solution to kill bacteria, while at the same time promoting bone growth without using antibiotics. The result is an implant made from bioactive glass – a type of glass used for bone repair – embedded with copper particles.

Copper-doped bioactive glass in the porous scaffold implant attracts blood vessels and bone cells, accelerating bone repair. The copper ions in the implant also prevent bacteria growth. According to the RCSI team, this triple-action effect of faster healing, improved bone growth and resistance to infection is a major improvement on current treatments.

“Osteomyelitis is notoriously difficult to treat,” said first author Emily Ryan, a recently qualified PhD student in the RCSI Department of Anatomy. “Further work on the back of this research could lead to the complete development of a single-stage, off-the-shelf treatment. This in turn could reduce the need for antibiotics and bone grafting – thus also addressing issues with antibiotic resistance.”

Osteomyelitis can result from broken bones, deep puncture wounds and even extreme tooth decay. Existing treatments have a failure rate of around 30 per cent, with the most severe cases leading to amputations and even death. As well as potentially improving outcomes for this rare but serious condition, the RCSI team also believes other infections could be treated using bioactive glass doped with different metals.

bioactive glass
PhD student Emily Ryan with Professor Fergal O’Brien (Credit: RCSI)

“We are looking forward to developing and testing this treatment for osteomyelitis and for other infections too,” said principal investigator, Fergal O’Brien, Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine in RCSI’s Department of Anatomy. “This platform system could be further modified and used to deliver a variety of other non-antibiotic antimicrobial metal ion-doped minerals.”

Published in Biomaterials, the work was funded by the Irish Research Council, the European Research Council and AMBER, plus the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre for materials science.