Scientists have turned to trees in the search for better materials to use in human bone transplants. A new procedure being developed in Italy aims to turn blocks of wood - specifically red oak, rattan and sipo - into artificial bones. It is hoped that wood-derived bone substitutes will allow faster and more secure healing than currently available with metal and ceramic implants.

In the U.S., bone grafts are second only to blood transfusions on the list of transplants, hence, the amount of activity currently being undertaken in his field.

In this instance, the researchers chose wood because it closely resembles the physical structure of natural bone, "which is impossible to reproduce with conventional processing technology."

"Our purpose is to convert native wood structures into bioactive, inorganic compounds destined to substitute portions of bone," said Anna Tampieri, a scientist at the Instituto Di Scienza E Techologia Dei Materiali Ceramici in Italy.

To create the bone substitute, a block of wood - red oak, rattan and sipo work best – is heated until all that remains is pure carbon, which is basically charcoal.

The scientists plan to implant them into humans after first trialling the technology in large animals.

Currently, titanium and cobalt chromium alloys are popular bone substitute materials while a number of synthetic calcium-based bone repair products have been available for many years. The first FDA approval of a synthetic bone implant (or bone void filler) was granted in 1992 to Pro Osteon, a calcium phosphate material that mimics hydroxyapatite manufactured from coral.

Presently, carbon-fiber composites are among a large number of materials and technology being studied, including investigations onto the bone-healing properties of stem cells.