Surgeons routinely harvest fragments from a healthy part of a patient's skeleton to repair wrecked bones elsewhere. This surgical step causes pain and expense that some researchers aim to eliminate by using a new bone-forming strategy that has shown promise in animal studies.
For years, scientists have been devising scaffold materials–both natural and synthetic–that encourage the growth of bone tissue. But the natural materials, primarily cow collagen, have raised worries of disease transmission. On the other hand, synthetic polymers can cause inflammation, and it's difficult to engineer the material to break down in synchrony with bone regrowth.