Bioactive glasses are reported to be able to stimulate more bone regeneration than other bioactive ceramics but they lag behind other bioactive ceramics in terms of commercial success. Bioactive glass has not yet reached its potential but research activity is growing. This paper reviews the current state of the art, starting with current products and moving onto recent developments. Larry Hench’s 45S5 Bioglass® was the first artificial material that was found to form a chemical bond with bone, launching the field of bioactive ceramics. In vivo studies have shown that bioactive glasses bond with bone more rapidly than other bioceramics, and in vitro studies indicate that their osteogenic properties are due to their dissolution products stimulating osteoprogenitor cells at the genetic level. However, calcium phosphates such as tricalcium phosphate and synthetic hydroxyapatite are more widely used in the clinic. Some of the reasons are commercial, but others are due to the scientific limitations of the original Bioglass 45S5. An example is that it is difficult to produce porous bioactive glass templates (scaffolds) for bone regeneration from Bioglass 45S5 because it crystallizes during sintering. Recently, this has been overcome by understanding how the glass composition can be tailored to prevent crystallization. The sintering problems can also be avoided by synthesizing sol–gel glass, where the silica network is assembled at room temperature. Process developments in foaming, solid freeform fabrication and nanofibre spinning have now allowed the production of porous bioactive glass scaffolds from both melt- and sol–gel-derived glasses. An ideal scaffold for bone regeneration would share load with bone. Bioceramics cannot do this when the bone defect is subjected to cyclic loads, as they are brittle. To overcome this, bioactive glass polymer hybrids are being synthesized that have the potential to be tough, with congruent degradation of the bioactive inorganic and the polymer components. Key to this is creating nanoscale interpenetrating networks, the organic and inorganic components of which have covalent coupling between them, which involves careful control of the chemistry of the sol–gel process. Bioactive nanoparticles can also now be synthesized and their fate tracked as they are internalized in cells. This paper reviews the main developments in the field of bioactive glass and its variants, covering the importance of control of hierarchical structure, synthesis, processing and cellular response in the quest for new regenerative synthetic bone grafts. The paper takes the reader from Hench’s Bioglass 45S5 to new hybrid materials that have tailorable mechanical properties and degradation rates.

This paper was originally published in Acta Biomaterialia, 9(1), Pages 4457–4486.

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