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University of Idaho
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Bone-Strong Bond

Nanospring research to enhance prostheses

University of Idaho researchers have found a new way to grow bone on orthopedic implants. The discovery could lead to more durable and better-performing prosthetics and other orthopedic devices used in animals and humans.

Physics graduate student Jamie Hass has developed a biofriendly, coated nanospring – a minuscule silicon dioxide-based structure that resembles a coiled phone cord – that clings to a prosthetic’s metal surface and stimulates, like collagen, bone cell growth in and around an artificial orthopedic device. 

“The nanosprings act as scaffolding for bone construction,” explains Hass, who is also a practicing veterinarian. “Think of the nanosprings as the rebar in a reinforced concrete wall. With this support structure in place, the bone cells can fill in, like cement, and form bone on the prosthesis.”

This process results in a stronger bond between the existing living bone and the implant. Preliminary studies also suggest that the technology could accelerate healing of the bone by as much as a 33 percent.

“The most common cause of failure of an orthopedic device is a weak attachment between the bone and the implant,” Hass says. “Implants with the coated nanospring could greatly decrease – and potentially eliminate – these types of device failures.”

Hass says the product’s potential “is huge” in the multibillion dollar orthopedic device market. The coated nanospring, which can be attached and grown directly on implants prior to surgical insertion, could enhance devices used for fractures, limb loss, osteoporosis, dental problems, degenerative bone disease, and other orthopedic conditions. She says leading veterinary orthopedic surgeons have already expressed interest in applying the technology to improve prostheses for animals.

“One of the most interesting long-term aspects of Jamie’s research is that it helps us understand how cells interact with nanomaterials, and it is laying the groundwork to investigate other potential applications, such as getting nerve cells to regrow in spinal injuries, for instance,” says David McIlory, the University of Idaho physics professor who invented nanosprings. McIlroy is supervising Hass’ research, along with biological sciences professor Gustavo Arrizabalaga.
Hass is currently working with the university’s Office of Technology Transfer to commercialize the patent-pending technology.

“There will likely be a company created in Idaho around this technology, which will generate new high-paying jobs and bring additional revenue into the state,” says Gene Merrell, associate vice president of research at the university.

The technology was selected last year by a broad group of Idaho business leaders as one of three finalists for the Idaho Innovation Awards’ Early-Stage Innovation of the Year Award.

“This recognition suggests that the state’s business community sees this technology as having real potential to benefit the state of Idaho,” Merrell says.

A team of students in the University of Idaho’s entrepreneurship program, Vandal Innovation and Enterprise Works (VIEW), is also working to get the product to market. The group is developing a business plan for a spinoff company and will present the idea to investors as part of this year’s VIEW Business Plan Competition.