Science //

Usyd researchers working to fix broken bones with DNA sugar glue

Joel Hillman explains what the fuck this means

BONE

USyd researchers are currently working with scientists at the Kids Research Institute at Westmead Children’s Hospital to investigate how sugars found in our DNA can create an active glue to make bone healing processes much faster.

This stands to be a leap forward from traditional methods of healing broken bones – You can pin a bone in place to help it heal, you can put in an implant if it’s very bad, or you can just realign it and hope for the best. This glue will work from within the site of the break itself.

Farid Mirmohseni, a 23-year-old PhD candidate in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, told the University of Sydney, “Our aim is to enable the sugar-based carriers to get to the damaged area as quickly as possible, and release these active ingredients in a controlled manner. Our body sugars can work like super glue to repair broken bones in record time.”

You probably don’t think of your bones as being alive, but they’re living tissue, with lots of blood vessels and nerves and probably other things too. When you break a bone, it’s often messy – think splintering a fresh twig – and that living tissue has to rebuild, just like any other part of the body.

Working like that expanding foam that tradies squirt into gaps, this glue goes in as a liquid and holds everything in place, then slowly breaks down at the rate the bone regrows. This will drastically reduce the risk of incorrect healing.

The glue, composed of some the body’s own molecules – sugars called riboses, which form the building blocks of DNA – doesn’t just hold the bone in place: it slow-releases a range of useful compounds. These can range from drugs to fight infection, or speed up angiogenesis (the building of new blood vessels to supply new tissue), or even drugs to reduce pain and inflammation.

The glue can also release markers (peptides) which can attract other useful cells to perform their specific function in rebuilding the bone.

Once the glue’s done its job, it will quietly and harmlessly dissolve into the bloodstream.

Scientists could even, theoretically, make a time sensitive release – starting with drugs for pain and infection, then ones to attract new building cells, then compounds to feed and support them as they grow.

The glue could also be used for disorders of the bone that people are born with or develop, and could help sculpt out the right shapes in development.

Researchers say that the technology could be applied to other kinds of damage, like the skin after lacerations or burns, or the heart muscle after a heart attack. Think how useful it would be for a physician to have a little tube of healing gel instead of stitches, or how much more of the heart could be salvaged or even regrown after it gets cut off from blood supply.

It’s clear that this new technology, driven largely by USyd-based research, has huge potential.