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Biocompatible foam suitable for bone augmentation

Originally Published MPMN March 2002

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Biocompatible foam suitable for bone augmentation

A patented thermoplastic syntactic foam was developed by the R&D division of Boeing Phantom Works (St. Louis, MO; www.boeing.com) to eliminate electromagnetic interference in antenna units mounted in the wings of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet carrier-based aircraft. It soon became apparent, however, that the biocompatible material with strength, density, and porosity properties similar to natural bone may have other applications.

The foam consists of a solidified mixture of hollow 90-µm-diam silica spheres. A polymer such as polyethermide is used to wet and bind the microballoons into an array to create porosity. Researchers found that the material effectively conducts bone into the porous implant via its controlled interstitial porosity. The foam can be molded or machined into complex structural shapes, and its density and porosity can be engineered to closely mimic natural bone tissue.

Boeing has donated the patent covering the foam's medical applications to the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia; www.upenn.edu), where researchers will continue its development. "We concluded that the best way to complete the technology development and recognize its full potential was to donate it to the University of Pennsylvania, an institution with a top-notch orthopedic facility," says Boeing vice president of intellectual property business Gene Partlow. "The university's technology transfer office has an outstanding record of successfully commercializing medical technologies."

Currently, the foam is being rigorously tested at the university's Center for Technology Transfer. "The foam has already been shown to allow regrowth of cancellous bone tissue, which is a porous proto-bone tissue," says director of licensing Tom Fitzsimmons. "We are still conducting tests to determine whether the foam can replace cortical bone, which is the strong, load-bearing tissue, once the material has established a beachhead with the cancellous tissue ."

According to Boeing, more than one million patients a year require bone augmentation. Thermoplastic syntactic foam could be used to repair bone defects, provide prostheses for maxillofacial reconstruction, serve as intervertebral spacers, and be used to fabricate orthopedic and other implants.

Benjamin Lichtman, Norbert Sparrow, Katherine Sweeny, Zachary Turke, and Susan Wallace

Copyright ©2002 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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