"Compared with these scaffolds, the high mechanical strength, excellent flexibility and low density of carbon nanotubes make them ideal for the production of lightweight, high-strength materials such as bone," says Robert Haddon, Ph.D., a chemist at the University of California, Riverside, and lead author of the paper. Single-walled carbon nanotubes are a naturally occurring form of carbon, like graphite or diamond, where the atoms are arranged like a rolled-up tube of chicken wire. They are among the strongest known materials in the world.

The researchers expect that nanotubes will improve the strength and flexibility of artificial bone materials, leading to a new type of bone graft for fractures that may also be important in the treatment of bone-thinning diseases such as osteoporosis.

In a typical bone graft, bone or synthetic material is shaped by the surgeon to fit the affected area. Pins or screws then hold the healthy bone to the implanted material. Grafts provide a framework for bones to regenerate and heal, allowing bone cells to weave into the porous structure of the implant, which supports the new tissue as it grows to connect fractured bone segments.

The new technique may someday give doctors the ability to inject a solution of nanotubes into a bone fracture, and then wait for the new tissue to grow and heal.

Simple single-walled carbon nanotubes are not sufficient, since the growth of hydroxyapatite crystals relies on the ability of the scaffold to attract calcium ions and initiate the crystallization process. So the researchers carefully designed nanotubes with several chemical groups attached.

Some of these groups assist the growth and orientation of hydroxyapatite crystals, allowing the researchers a degree of control over their alignment, while other groups improve the biocompatibility of nanotubes by increasing their solubility in water.

MEDICA.de; Source: American Chemical Society