Hongji Yan in his lab at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Photo: Vaibhav Srivastava.
Hongji Yan in his lab at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Photo: Vaibhav Srivastava.

Molecules from mucus can be used to produce synthetic bone graft material and help with the healing of larger bone loss, say researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. These researchers have developed a bioactive gel that could replace the clinical gold standard of autografting, in which lost bone is replaced with healthy bone taken from another part of the patient’s body.

Hongji Yan, a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, says that the novel gel contains molecules known as mucins derived from cow mucus. The mucins were processed into gels that were combined with monetite granules, a commonly used synthetic bone graft material. The resulting synthetic gel can be injected to the site of bone loss.

In tests on lab rats with cranial injuries, the researchers found that this bioactive gel meets two key requirements for the successful healing of bone defects. It promotes formation of bone and blood vessels, and it interacts with the immune system. The researchers report their findings in a paper in Bioactive Materials.

As the main solid components of mucus, mucins give mucus its viscosity. They can also balance the reaction of the immune system, by, for example, modulating immune cells and mitigating inflammation. But according to Yan, this is the first study to show how these qualities work with tissue repair.

Bodily tissue is loaded with blood vessels, and bones are no exception. When bone defects are on the mend, newly formed bone needs to be engulfed into the host bone’s vasculature, the network of blood vessels that connect the new bone to the heart.

Yan says this research raises hopes of better outcomes in a wide range of procedures for treating larger bone loss. “Mucus protects the body from invaders such as bacteria and viruses, and maintains hemostasis in tissues, where mucins play an important role,” Yan says. “The regenerative approach, using the body's own cells through synthetic active material, offers a way to promote bone healing.

“Grafting from a patient’s own bone tissue has limits. There may be an inadequate supply of healthy tissue, and it can be especially risky for people with poor bone quality such as the elderly.”

The bioactive gel is not currently ready for clinical use, but further studies with larger animals are planned by the research group.

This story is adapted from material from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.