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Replacing 'steel plate in the head' with skull's own material


June 17, 2010

A Resobone patch on a model skull

A Resobone patch on a model skull

People may joke about someone having a steel plate in their head, but in the case of punctures to the skull, that often ends up actually being the case – the hole in the bone is plugged with a permanent titanium-based patch. Researchers from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, however, have just announced the development of biodegradable patches that stimulate the skull into healing itself. As the bone grows back in, the patches disappear.

Called Resobone, the patch material is made from the synthetic polylactide, and is sized to fit each patient. The material is porous in nature, due to its lattice-like structure of microchannels. These channels are produced through the process of Selective Laser Melting, and provide a substrate for the surrounding bone to grow into. Resobone also contains granules of tricalcium phosphate, which aid in rigidity and stimulate bone growth. Over a period of months or even years, the bone will gradually replace the Resobone, until nothing but natural bone is left.

Resobone cannot stand up to severe stress, so its use will be limited primarily to facial, maxillary (upper jaw area) and cranial bones. So far, it has been able to close fissures up to 25 square centimeters in size. The patches can be created in anywhere from a few hours to over one night.

Not only should the use of Resobone result in less titanium plates, it should also mean shorter and fewer surgeries. Currently, doctors will sometimes take bits of bone off the patient’s pelvis in order to close smaller fissures. In the case of children with steel plates, follow-up surgeries are often necessary to upsize the plate as the child grows. Hopefully, both of these procedures will become much less common.

Fraunhofer’s work in this field holds similarities with Dr. Brian Amsden’s research into regrowing body parts such as tendons, and Dr. Jeremy Mao’s system for regrowing teeth.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

I had a large depressed skull fracture from a 1955 head on MVA. The successive plate surgeries with Stainless steel plates was rejected, and I went to school in a hard hat. The space left by cleaning up the open injury was 2 x 4 inches, and by 10 years later was down to a half inch across, the rest regrown with one plate of bone. With young patients (! was 10) amazing acts of regrowth occur.

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