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Researchers at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have developed "a bone glue," a material that combines biological and synthetic components that when mixed together, supports broken bones and allows them to grow new bone tissue. After the broken bone has fused, the material is broken down in the body.

The material was developed in the Technion's Department of Biomedical Engineering by Dr. Dror Seliktar and Liora Almani-Levy, a master's degree student.

According to Seliktar, it is common practice in orthopedic medicine today to use various types of screws and steel pins to fix broken bones in place and thereby help them to fuse; sometimes, he says, a material known as "bone cement" is also used. "These materials," Seliktar continues, "only give the bone the structural-mechanical support it needs, and do not facilitate the regeneration of bone tissue at the damaged site.

Seliktar says that although biological materials used today to rehabilitate damaged tissues encourage tissue regeneration, they do not provide the regenerated tissue with the physical strength. "The material we have developed," he says, "does both."

The new material, known for now as Gelrin, is comprised of Fibrin and the polyethylene, Glycol. Fibrin is a protein produced in blood plasma and serves as a central element in the blood clotting process; the Glycol is a transparent plastic material. The Technion researchers have found a way to bind the molecules of the two substances to form a new material that has biological characteristics and can also be adjusted to different strengths.

The cells of the body identify the new material as "a friendly substance," on which regenerated tissue that supplements boneless areas can be grown. "In fact, the bone tissue grows within the Gelrin; and as soon as the tissue fills the space, the material breaks down and washes out in the urine," Seliktar explains, adding that one of its advantages is that it can be injected into the damaged area without need for surgery.

Till now, tests with Gelrin have been conducted on cells grown under laboratory conditions, with trials on rats to begin within the coming days. Seliktar says both substances that make up the Gelrin are used in medicine today and both are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "I believe the FDA will not have a special problem with the fact that we have combined the two substances; hence, if the material proves itself as effective, it will receive the FDA's approval."

The Technion has registered a patent on the development of Gelrin, and Seliktar says that the institute is currently in talks with an entrepreneur who has heard of the material and is interested in establishing a start-up that will develop applications for it.

In the United States alone, some one million bone-replacement operations are conducted each year.