Healing Broken Bones With Coral
Soon coral reefs may be able to help heal your injuries! Bone surgery may become less painful, less dangerous and even less expensive -- all thanks to the research of a creative graduate student from the University of California at Santa Cruz who studied some of the unusual properties of coral.
Unlike human bones that are formed by protein guidance, coral produces its skeleton without using proteins. Since no one has been able to mimic the protein-directed bone growth of humans, Brent Constanz decided to try to form an "artificial bone" by copying the way coral grows. This material, known as SRS for "skeletal repair system," is injected as a paste into a bone fracture site, where it hardens within minutes.
After twelve hours, the injected material is as strong as natural bone, and gives more support than the screws, pins and plates that are commonly used to repair broken bones. The body also adapts much more easily to this injected material because it is so similar in structure to human bone. Bone cells even grow into the implant, gradually replacing it with fresh, living bone.
Thanks to the unique chemical structure of coral reefs, hospitals around the world may soon be saying hello to artificial bone and so long to metal plates, pins and screws -- for good!
(Based on Robert Poole's, Coral Chemistry Leads to Human Bone Repair, Science, Vol. 267, March 24, 1995, page 1772.)