Bone grafting is an established procedure to repair damage or rebuild bone material. It is used to treat those suffering from fractures, bone defects and joint problems who cannot grow sufficient bone naturally. The graft can either fill a space where bone is missing, or act as a ‘scaffold’ to provide stability and support natural regrowth where bone is damaged. Bone grafts are beneficial in treating patients with a variety of orthopaedic injuries and illnesses.
Generally, bone grafts are made from biological or synthetic substances. Biological bone grafts are either harvested from the patient, or taken from deceased donors. There are disadvantages. For self-donors, the patient must undergo invasive surgery to remove bone from one site in the body to then be used where treatment is needed. The patient faces a difficult recovery period and greater risk of infection as a result. To take bone from a deceased donor can be time-consuming and it is difficult to find a compatible match when the patient needs it.
Alternatively, synthetic materials such as calcium sulphate, ceramics and bioactive glass can all be used in bone grafting surgery. However, these options are often weaker than biological substances, and more prone to bending or breaking, which can injure the patient and lead to further surgery. These man-made materials also risk rejection by the patient’s immune system following surgery.
Now scientists at the University of Massachusetts Lowell have been researching a new method of creating bone graft material, using eggshell particles taken from chickens’ eggs. Eggshells are formed from calcium carbonate, a substance found naturally in human bone, so the expectation is that grafts made using eggshells are less likely to be rejected by patients than those using synthetic materials.
Researchers have also pointed out the environmental benefits of using eggshells, as they are freely available and typically regarded as a waste product, compared to engineering expensive man-made substances, or using human bone that is in short supply.
The material is still being tested and it may be some time before it becomes widely available to patients needing treatment, but if eggshells can successfully provide an alternative or improvement to current bone graft options, their use could also be extended to growing cartilage, tendons and teeth as well.