Osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually worldwide, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every three seconds. In the UK, osteoporosis affects 3.5 million people with more than 500,000 people receiving hospital treatment for fragility fractures - more than three times the annual number of strokes - every year. As the worldwide population continues to age, this key health issue will require innovative and preventive solutions. 

A team in the Faculty of Engineering, led by Dr Ifty Ahmed, has developed a potential solution - highly porous calcium phosphate microspheres incorporated with stem cells. 

Their research has focused on developing a scalable single-stage process for manufacturing highly porous calcium phosphate - and other bio-glass - microspheres which are suitable for bone repair applications, as they are chemically similar to the inorganic part of bone. A patent was filed in 2014 to cover the production process for the microspheres.

The team has undertaken proof-of-concept work to confirm stem cell incorporation, attachment and viability of the microsphere carriers. An Invention for Innovation challenge award from the National Institute for Health Research supported the development of a prototype delivery device that will inject stem cell loaded microspheres to sites of interest down 1mm and 2mm (inner diameter) needles.

The calcium phosphate, stem cell-carrying microspheres aim to enhance bone mineral density in osteoporotic bones thereby reducing the risk of fractures via a simple injection. The novel technology should reduce the incidence of bone fractures in osteoporosis patients, resulting in a higher quality of life and a reduction in associated consequences, such as invasive surgery and loss of independence.

The microspheres could be used for multiple applications making this a platform technology that could positively impact many industries. The processing technology developed to alternate materials - both synthetic and natural - is being trialled for use in other applications including water treatment processes, whereby particulates are removed from wastewater through filtration and adsorption. 



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