January 11, 2010

2 Min Read
Rattan Graduates from the Living Room to the Bone-Replacement Lab

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After undergoing a series of processing steps, a piece of rattan (left) fuses with natural bone (right), opening the door to the use of the wood as a bone-replacement material.

A group of scientists led by Anna Tampieri at the Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics (ISTEC; Faenza, Italy) have developed a method for turning rattan--the name for approximately 600 species of palms--into bone material that is almost identical to the human tissue. A herd of sheep have already been implanted with the artificial bones.The process starts by cutting long tubular rattan wood into manageable pieces, after which it is snipped into even smaller chunks in preparation for the complex chemical process that converts it into artificial bone, a process that involves the addition of carbon and calcium. After being heated in a furnace, the pieces are heated under intense pressure in another oven-like machine, which produces a phosphate solution. After about 10 days, the rattan wood has been transformed into bone-like material."It's proving very promising," Tampieri remarks. "This new bone material is strong, so it can take heavy loads that bodies will put on it. It is also durable, so, unlike existing bone substitutes, it won't need replacing."Several types of wood were tested before the researchers found that rattan works best. Because of its structure and porous properties, rattan enables blood, nerves, and other compounds to travel through it. This work is the closest scientists have ever come to replicating the human bone, Tampieri says. "It eventually fuses with real bone, so in time, you don't even see the join."The new wood bone is being closely studied at the nearby Bologna University hospital, where orthopedic surgeons such as Maurillo Marcacci are monitoring the sheep tests. X-rays of the sheep's legs indicate that particles from the sheeps' own bones are migrating to rattan-based bone. Within a few months, the real bone and the implant will fuse into a continuous bone. Observing no signs of rejection or infection in the sheep, the scientists hope that rattan presents a natural, cheap, and effective replacement for bones. Implants into humans are about five years away.More detail about this technology is available in the BBC News article "Turning wood into bones."

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