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Wooden Bones
January 18, 2010 9:20 PM   Subscribe

New research suggests that treated wood may serve as an ideal bone replacement.

The researchers used rattan wood, which is similar to bamboo in composition, but more pliable, and thus commonly used in furniture.

Heating the wood,
then exposing it to carbon dioxide and oxygen, caused it to turn into porous calcium carbonate. Then it was converted to hydroxyapatite using a phosphate donor.

Other ways to replace bones include ceramics, metal, and bone from cadavers. However, like previous attempts at calcium carbonate bone replacements, these methods tend to be brittle and do not always adequately fuse with existing bone. Other upcoming methods for replacing bones include bone printers.

The authors state that this research could have implications for building space vehicles, as the resulting material is strong and tough, and maintains its properties under high heat and mechanical stress.
posted by emilyd22222 (40 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've got wood just thinking about it.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:31 PM on January 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


In addition to being brittle, the other alternative implant materials tend not to vascularize well. This is one of the major problems with implants that are used as bone and cartilage replacements: The substance that they are made of must be spongy enough to allow capillary and tissue ingrowth once they are implanted, yet remain strong and flexible enough to withstand various stresses.

A doctor once explained to me that an ideal cartilage implant might (once it's been in the body for a few months) actually bleed when it's cut into, thanks to a higher degree of vascularization. And bone implants aren't ideal for a lot of reaons.

Porex makes a polyethylene implant called Medpor, which is a cartilage replacement. It's pretty neat stuff -- it comes either preshaped or in sheets, and a surgeon can cut it with scissors or shape it with a scalpel during surgery. When Medpor was introduced in the 1990's, it was pretty revolutionary -- previously, a patient in need might have their own cartilage harvested from their rib cage, which would mean a large, invasive secondary surgery. The implant eliminated that requirement.

Bone replacements need to be far stronger, of course. But they still need to allow a certain amount of tissue ingrowth. It's extremely cool that they've found that treated rattan can serve that purpose.

Thanks for this post. Fascinating stuff!
posted by zarq at 9:39 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


...which is similar to bamboo in composition, but more pliable, and thus commonly used in furniture for beating your friends. FTFY

Putting on my other hat, I can't help but think that conversion wouldn't be 100% and you'd have some kind of immune response, so if we were betting, I'd bet on the printers. The neat thing about the intersection of tissue culture and 3-D printers is that it probably won't be that long before they can create any piece of non-highly structured tissue for implant that way.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:41 PM on January 18, 2010


I saw this earlier. This is among the weirdest steps in the line dance of human progress.
posted by Anything at 9:41 PM on January 18, 2010


"In theory, you could do any bone," says Christian Weinand of the Insel Hospital in Berne, Switzerland, head of the team that copied his thumb bones. "Now I can put spares in my pocket if I want," he says.



This, a million times over.
posted by coppermoss at 9:45 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This, a million times over.

What the hell do you even mean by that?
posted by delmoi at 9:48 PM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


notallofushavethumbs!
posted by wobh at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wait, they might be able to build SPACE SHIPS out of wood?

My fifth-grade fantasy is becoming reality.
posted by meadowlark lime at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This, a million times over.

What the hell do you even mean by that?


Some people just have that many thumbs.
posted by wanderingmind at 9:56 PM on January 18, 2010


I've got wood just thinking about it.

You mean a boner?
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:01 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't believe a word of this. Next they'll be going on about how they can make entire legs out of wood!
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:07 PM on January 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


What the hell do you even mean by that?

In the extremely unlikely case that you weren't just being facetious and overly literal for the purpose of dissing coppermouse, let me help you.

Coppermouse feels that this is a baby step toward a state where medical information and technology is cheap and democratized sufficient that citizens can keep extra skeletons around just in case. He chose an awkward way to say "I would like to see more innovations in this direction."
posted by thedaniel at 10:31 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that sounds like the most interesting branch of medicine that I ever saw.
posted by Ratio at 10:31 PM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


This, a million times over.

What the hell do you even mean by that?


Dudes, I'd love me some replaceable bones. Seriously, I love to see progress being made. Boner jokes aside, nothing is quite as unfunny as breaking some useful part of yourself.
posted by thrind at 10:32 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heating the wood, then exposing it to carbon dioxide and oxygen, caused it to turn into porous calcium carbonate.

Where did the calcium come from?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:33 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I want to become a real boy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:34 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


In related news, hooks make excellent hand replacements.
posted by brundlefly at 10:36 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where did the calcium come from?

I may have oversimplified. From the abstract:
"The whole chemical conversion has been carried out through five steps from native wood to porous hydroxyapatite: 1) pyrolysis of ligneous raw materials to produce carbon templates characterized by the natural complex anisotropic pore structure; 2) carburization process by vapour or liquid calcium permeation to yield calcium carbide; 3) oxidation process to transform calcium carbide into calcium oxide; 4) carbonation by hydrothermal process under CO2 pressure for the further conversion into calcium carbonate; 5) phosphatization process through hydrothermal treatment to achieve the final hydroxyapatite phase."
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:41 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sounds like step 3 produces a lot of acetylene as a by-product.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:57 PM on January 18, 2010


I see all the pirate jokes have already been done better than I would have done, so I'll just say this is an awesome post.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:53 AM on January 19, 2010


So the nickname "Boner" is based on skeletal construction...not just like the guy from "Growing Pains".
posted by hal_c_on at 1:59 AM on January 19, 2010


This is not a direction I expected steampunk to take.
posted by mhoye at 2:12 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


My other leg is a wickerwork chair!
posted by flabdablet at 2:37 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


treated wood may serve as an ideal bone replacement.

"(pressure)-treated wood" is a specific thing that brings a toxic image to mind when it comes to use inside the body.
posted by DU at 2:52 AM on January 19, 2010


Thats great and all but will the bones still be white? I mean, Id be pretty embarrased walking around with a bone in my body that wasnt nice and white like the others.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 3:48 AM on January 19, 2010


WTF! You made a pay link your main link? That is not okay.
posted by caddis at 4:02 AM on January 19, 2010


Thats great and all but will the bones still be white? I mean, Id be pretty embarrased walking around with a bone in my body that wasnt nice and white like the others.

Don't worry, ElmerFishpaw, when we're all standing around at the MeFi cocktail party, we'll just very politely pretend we don't notice. And then somebody will say something like "I'd like that, WOODn't you Elmer?" and everyone will be, like, totally uncomfortable.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:22 AM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is not a direction I expected steampunk to take.

Timberpunk?
posted by permafrost at 5:42 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Very cool.

It's probably better to think of this as a artificial fossil of wood, than wood itself. What they're doing is starting with a wood model that's easily to shape and turning it into a mineral, hydroxyapatite, that is naturally part of our bones and that the body knows how to grow into and modify. Custom bioactive ceramics. Very, very cool.

From what I can tell, hydroxyapatite doesn't seem to be as strong as bone, but if it serves as a scaffold for bone to grow into (unlike titanium), that may not matter so much.
posted by bonehead at 6:25 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]



Timberpunk?


Don't give them any ideas!

Still waitin' for my Bronze-Age Hellenpunk
posted by The Whelk at 6:55 AM on January 19, 2010


WTF! You made a pay link your main link? That is not okay.

The first link is to the abstract. I considered putting an "(abstract only)" in there, I guess I should have. When it comes to empirical research, my preference is to be linked to the original publication, not a blog or something reporting on that article. It becomes a bit like telephone, ya know?
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:13 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Centaurs have been using this technique for ages.
posted by drmanhattan at 8:38 AM on January 19, 2010


WTF! You made a pay link your main link? That is not okay.

There's ample precedent for this when it comes to research studies. I can't speak for the mods, but it seems to be okay with them as long as other explanatory (non-pay) links are supplied as well.
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on January 19, 2010


It's like a McGyver meets House. Nurse, pass me that tube of Braunschweiger and 2X4, STAT!
posted by silkyd at 9:16 AM on January 19, 2010


I've been involved recently with research into space vehicle design and reentry shielding. Putting wood on a spaceship isn't quite as ridiculous as it sounds - the Chinese used oak as an ablative heat shield on some recoverable recon satellites, and apparently there's cork composites used as ablative shielding in some American rocket engines.

On the other hand: you discover how to make human bone, and your first thought is "let's build a spaceship out of this!"?? That's some gorram Reaver fei hua.
posted by roystgnr at 10:11 AM on January 19, 2010


WTF! You made a pay link your main link? That is not okay.

Have you read full research articles that often? Perhaps you do, and biochemistry is a field you understand. but I think for the wider MetaFilter audience, abstracts provide just enough information for it all to make sense, or at least enough that comments and questions can be made, and discourse can continue. Also, open research articles are not the norm, though there are some shifts to open documents for all to see.

Back to the topic: does this mean I can have a permanent peg-leg as a replacement for a leg removed due to gangrene, sword fights or whale bites? The pirate's life sounds a lot more pleasant now.

I'm still looking forward to the day when I can grow new teeth. Gold is too darned soft, and silver tarnishes so easily.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2010


Totally, totally awesome. I wonder if people suffering from osteoporosis will be able to just have whole parts of their skeletons replaced. Okay, probably not, but still, this is great. I love science.
posted by Dasein at 11:38 AM on January 19, 2010


I'm still looking forward to the day when I can grow new teeth.

When my great-grandmother (or possibly great-great-grandmother, I can't remember) grew old, her teeth fell out. Then she got even older, and another set of teeth grew in to replace her lost adult teeth. True story.
posted by Dasein at 11:43 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


you discover how to make human bone, and your first thought is "let's build a spaceship out of this!"??

Perhaps my great-grandson will swab the poopdeck of Boneship Alpha.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:38 PM on January 19, 2010


Thats great and all but will the bones still be white? I mean, Id be pretty embarrased walking around with a bone in my body that wasnt nice and white like the others.

Yeah, don't worry ElmerFishpaw. I'm currently looking for investors for my new biotech startup. Two words for you, buddy: bone whitening.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 2:53 PM on January 19, 2010


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