UMR researchers use glass to heal bone

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla are developing glass that could be used to repair bone and microscopic glass spheres that could be injected into arthritic joints.

Arthritis sufferers may soon find relief from an unlikely source: glass. UMR researchers are developing special glasses that could be used to repair bone and microscopic glass spheres that could be injected into arthritic joints.

‘Imagine using a caulking gun to repair the cracks in your bathroom. Now think of injecting a non-harmful but similar substance into a crushed vertebrae to fill in the space and cracks,’ said Dr. Delbert Day, Curators’ Professor emeritus of ceramic engineering at UMR.

By mixing crushed glass particles with a polymer, Day is developing a substance that could be used to repair broken or diseased bone. The mixture would be injected into the area of crushed vertebrae or other damaged bone. The mixture then fills the cracks, glueing the broken pieces back together. Once this mixture hardens, it turns into a bonelike substance, bonding itself to the original bone, Day said.

Those who struggle with rheumatoid arthritis might find inspiration in what glass can do for treating their ailment. Day and other UMR researchers are perfecting biodegradable glass spheres that will be used to irradiate arthritis joints.

Small radioactive glass spheres, about one-fifth to one-tenth the diameter of a human hair, can be injected into the diseased joint. Once the radiation is delivered, the spheres gradually react with the body fluids and eventually disappear from the body, creating a safe way to expose a patient to radiation. ‘The glass beads confine all of the radioactivity to the diseased joint,’ said Day.

The development of biodegradable glass beads is said to be advancing rapidly. ‘What we investigate and see in the laboratory, compared to what has been seen in experiments on animals, is encouraging,’ Day said.

Day said similar procedures could be used to treat other ailments. Instead of using a solid glass sphere, a hollow sphere or shell filled with a drug and injected into the body, or spread as a cream onto the skin and gradually released into the body’s system, could be used, Day said.

This type of treatment releases the drug in a more uniform manner and targets the infection or diseased area. UMR has licensed this technology to a company that intends to use the drug-filled shells to treat skin disorders such as psoriasis and chronic eczema, said Day.