A team of Northwestern University scientists led by Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Samuel I. Stupp is the first team to develop a bone-like material for the treatment for bone fractures and bone cancer. "Recreating natural bone structure at the nanoscale level—the first level of bone structural hierarchy—is what we set out to do with our experiments, and we succeeded," said Northwestern postdoctoral fellow Jeffrey D. Hartgerink, the lead author of a paper reporting the results. A nanofiber measuring about 8 nanometers in diameter is 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. When these nanofibers are exposed to solutions containing calcium and phosphate ions, the fibers become covered with hydroxyapatite crystals. These thin, rectangular mineral wafers grow on the nanofibers in a direction parallel to the fiber's length, just like the hydroxyapatite crystal growth on collagen in the formation of real bones. Collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body, is found in most human tissues, including the heart, eyes, blood vessels, skin, cartilage and bone. When the synthetic nanofibers form, they create a gel scaffold, which is useful for bone tissue formation and the regeneration processes of other tissues too. Because of its chemical structure, the nanofiber gel would encourage attachment of natural bone cells, helping to patch fractures. The gel also could be used to improve implants and other joint replacements. The findings also map out a path for the creation of many other materials by self-assembly and spontaneous mineralization that take advantage of an inorganic material growing on an organic material. The process could be useful in electronics, photonics, magnetics, and catalysis. The Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research support the work. For more information, go to www.northwestern.edu or contact Stupp at 847-491-3002 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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