Biological cements to repair fractures of the spine are being developed in a collaborative project between Queen’s University Belfast and Leeds University.

Biological cements to repair ‘burst fractures’ of the spine are being developed and tested in a collaborative project between Queen’s University Belfast and Leeds University.

Recently, the team has been awarded just under £500,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to continue their on-going research to develop and examine the effects of novel cement materials for the treatment of burst fractures.

Bone cements, similar to those used in joint replacement surgery, are already being used to strengthen damaged vertebrae of patients with diseases such as osteoporosis, in a procedure known as vertebroplasty, but ‘burst fractures’ to the spine, injuries often sustained in major impact accidents and falls, are much more difficult to treat. They often require highly complex, invasive surgery and a long stay in hospital.

'This type of fracture causes the vertebra to burst apart and in severe cases fragments of bone can be pushed into the spinal cord. Surgeons may be able to join bone fragments together and stabilise the spine with the use of metal screws and rods, but patients with these injuries are often in a really bad way, so the less invasive the treatment, the better,' said Dr Ruth Wilcox, of Leeds University's Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

To be able to use bone cements for burst fractures would be simpler, quicker and much less invasive for the patient, reducing both recovery times and costs.

Dr Fraser Buchanan, Dr Nicholas Dunne and Dr Susan Clarke, co-investigators on research into bone cements

'These materials can be delivered to the fracture site by injection and mimic the chemical composition of bone itself,' said Dr Fraser Buchanan, of the School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast.

At Leeds, computational modelling of the spine will provide the Queen’s researchers with data to assist in the development of the new biomaterials and to simulate how they will perform in patients.