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Hydroapatite is a naturally occurring mineral. It is a form of calcium apatite and makes up around 70% of the internal structure of human bones and teeth. Lightweight, strong, and flexible, it is an ideal material for supporting active limbs.
For the same reason, it is commonly used as a filler to replace amputated bone or as a coating to promote bone ingrowth into prosthetic implants. Prior to June 2009 it was never even considered as an implant itself, primarily because we had no idea how to make it in sufficient quantities and sizes.
Researchers at the Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics in Italy changed all that, when through careful experimentation, a team successfully managed to turn pieces of wood into artificial hydroapatite, keeping the shape of the original wood, and creating the same honeycomb structures throughout that normal bone possesses.
The material is created by heating the piece of wood to the point where organic material begins to decompose. By maintaining this temperature rather than burning the wood, everrything save the carbon template of the material falls away. This is then immersed in pure mixtures of calcium, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. The template reacts to form calcium carbonate. From there, the procedure to convert to calcium apatite is simple and well known.
However, current creation procedures have never been able to work with samples of the material precisely tuned for shape and size, so as to form the main fitting and structual support for a prosthetic limb.
Researcher Anna Tampieri stated when discussing the team's work. "Materials able to maintain adequate properties at extremely high temperatures and mechanical stress are highly sought after for use in several different applications, such as space vehicles. An intriguing possibility is that of simultaneously achieving high values of strength and toughness, for which ordinarily there is a trade-off. In addition, new materials with extreme physical properties, such as thermal expansion or piezoelectricity, can be obtained."
From wood to bone: multi-step process to convert wood hierarchical structures into biomimetic hydroxyapatite scaffolds for bone tissue engineering
Trees take on tissue engineering