Building better bone tissue

Survival rates for oral and pharyngeal cancers could improve if Virginia Tech researchers are able to successfully construct a tissue engineered composite material for oral reconstructions.

Oral and pharyngeal cancers rank among the most prevalent worldwide, although they account for only about three percent of all cancers in the United States.

Unfortunately, most oral cancers are detected at advanced stages when combinations of surgery and radiation are required, and the most recent studies show the five-year survival rate of 53 percent has not changed in the past 30 years.

If two Virginia Tech researchers, collaborating with the American Dental Association (ADA), are able to successfully construct a tissue engineered composite material for oral reconstructions, these statistics might yield a better outcome.

The repair of the diseased tissue in these cancers often requires reconstruction of the bone, and Brian Love, Virginia Tech professor of materials science and engineering, and principal investigator on a $140,000 National Institutes for Health (NIH) grant, believes “substantially better clinical outcomes for all oral constructions could result if a more viable scaffold material were used that was capable of faster and higher quality bone formation.”

Love and the team are looking at amorphous calcium phosphates (ACPs) as inorganic host materials in the rebuilding of tissue. ACPs, in the presence of cells that make bone (called osteoblasts), are believed to “more readily” provide the host material for new bone formation in tissue engineering than other choices, Love explains.

“By constructing tissue engineered composites containing ACPs, living osteoblasts, and donor materials,” Love believes the result could be faster and higher quality bone formation.

As the interdisciplinary research team better understands how bone-making cells respond to ACP, their next challenge will be to assess these re-growth characteristics in vivo.