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Grow your own bones

The field of bioceramics is explored in a month long exhibition at the Science Museum which opened last week.

Professor Larry Hench from the Department of Materials at Imperial College, London, developed the first generation of bioceramic material in 1969. Known as Bioglass®, it was the first class of man-made materials with the unique ability to bond with bone and connective tissue making it suitable for clinical applications in the repair of bones, joints and teeth.

Professor Larry Hench
The exhibition tells the story of the recent discovery that a liquid form of Bioglass®, enriched with bone cells, can induce bone to regenerate faster than its natural rate, enhancing the body's ability to regenerate tissue and heal itself.

Collaborating with Professor Julia Polak, co-director of the recently established Tissue Engineering Centre and a team from Hammersmith and, Chelsea and Westminster hospitals, Professor Hench found that Bioglass® acts as a scaffold for bone cells to cling to - binding existing bone to new cells.

The hope now is to develop an injectable or tablet form of liquid Bioglass® that could be used to treat complex fractures or the degenerative bone disease osteoporosis.

Working like a 'fertiliser', Bioglass® promotes an immediate exchange of chemical molecules, known as ions, when it comes into contact with body fluid after implantation in bone. This results in a physiochemical bond between Bioglass®, soft tissue and bone.

The bonding layer formed by the ion exchanges is almost identical chemically and structurally to natural bone mineral, allowing the body's tissues to attach directly to it. As new bone cells infiltrate the area of implantation they encounter this bone-like surface - complete with the organic components required for growth.

Commenting Professor Hench said: "The time has come to shift our thinking from using artificial parts to learning how to use the body's own repair mechanisms to regenerate damaged tissue."

He added: "There's potential to prevent osteoporosis. The fertilisers released by my Bioglass® should reverse the problem. Popping pills containing the same ingredients could rejuvenate cells, preventing bones from becoming brittle."

The display will be on view in Antenna, an exhibition in the Science Museum's Wellcome Wing until 21 June 2001.


Professor Hench's research can be found at:

Tissue Engineering website:

The company website for Bioglass® is:

To visit the Science Museum's website follow this link:

For further information, please contact:

Judith H Moore
Imperial College Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6702
Fax: +44 (0)20 7594 6700