The prosthetic implants are being developed by scientists at Glasgow University in collaboration with orthopaedic surgeons at the city’s Southern General Hospital and they hope to have a prototype ready within 10 years.
The move follows a breakthrough last year by a team at the university’s Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology when they succeeded in creating a special plastic surface capable of controlling what stem cells become – a technique that was previously impossible.
The plastic is covered in tiny pits 120 nanometres across which, when stem cells are placed on the surface, encourages them to grow and spread across the pits in a way which ensures they differentiate into therapeutically useful cells.
While the implant itself will be made of an advanced polymer, already commonly used in spinal and other orthopaedic procedures, it will be coated for the first time in the university’s unique plastic. As a result, once inserted into a patient’s bone marrow – a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells – these can be made to divide and differentiate into fresh bone cells, creating a much stronger and more durable implant.