New University research is being developed to grow back bones — and it’s not magic from a fantasy novel.
But James Hollier, biological engineering senior, is conducting research to create bone scaffolds that are cheaper but still compatible with the body.
To make the scaffolds, Hollier first makes a solution of organic materials, such as collagen or cellulose, and then freezes it vertically. The porous scaffold is created by this freeze-drying because the water in the solution is removed.
Hollier then puts the scaffold into an Instron machine, which tests scaffolds by compressing them. He said this process shows if the scaffold can withstand loads like a normal bone.
“We’re trying to get close to loads that actual bone stands up to,” Hollier said.
Real bone must withstand hundreds of megapascals of pressure and weight. Hollier said his scaffolds have reached seven megapascals.
“Realistically, we wouldn’t be able to have the same strength and be biocompatible,” he said.
Hollier said he aims to reach the resistance of 100 to 150 megapascals.
He said the main reason for his experiment is to repair cortical bone structure.
“If you’re born with some kind of birth defect, literally cut it out and replace it,” Hollier said.
He and Dan Hayes, the principal investigator of his experiment and assistant professor in biological engineering, collaborated with James Henry, who was working with hydrogels made with whey protein, which is a cheap material.
Hollier’s solution for the first scaffold was made of whey protein and water. He said his project evolved from there.
Though Henry had success making scaffolds with whey in hydrogel, Hollier found it was too weak to be used in scaffolds.
“We are moving toward cellulose because whey didn’t produce scaffolds we would like,” he said.
Hollier said he is testing the scaffolds with pre-osteoblasts, which he called the “precursor to adult functioning bone cells.”
Ideally, as the cells grow on the scaffold, the scaffold deteriorates, he said. The newly formed piece of bone will be in the shape of the scaffold.
Hollier and Hayes have stem cells from Jeffrey Gimble at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Hayes said Gimble procures the stem cells from fat.
They said they are not using the stem cells yet because they are in the mechanical phase.
Hayes said he provides Hollier with guidance, support and a working environment. He said the funds for Hollier’s experiment and the projects of roughly 30 other students come from a combination of University, state and federal funds.
Combined, the funds total several hundred thousand dollars a year, Hayes said.
Hayes said programs such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants and Louisiana Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Research Scholars Program bring new students to undergraduate research, which provides new ideas and experiments.
“The experience is the most important thing,” Hollier said. “I’m happy with what we’ve done, and I’m excited to see what we can do in the near-term.”
Hollier said though working in the science field means a lot of failures, but he keeps working because of the successes he has reached so far in his project.