Dental resin composites may be used to fill cavities in teeth, but when it comes to surgically fixing broken bones, metal plates and screws are still standard. That may not be the case for much longer, though, if a new dental-inspired adhesive bone patch enters use.

The biocompatible patch, which is designed to stick to wet bone, was created by scientists from Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology and the Karolinska Institutet. It's applied in a procedure that takes about five minutes.

First, an acidic self-etching primer is applied directly to the bone, eating away its surface to expose its collagen fibers. Next, an adhesive resin is applied. It contains tiny fibers that become entangled with those of the exposed collagen. Finally, in a process known as thiol-ene coupling, the resin is hardened by exposing it to LED light – just like dentists do when filling cavities.

When tested on rat bones, the patch was found to have 55 percent more bonding strength than commercially-available dental resins, along with providing enough load-bearing strength to hold broken bones together. The technology has been declared ready for clinical trials, and is now being commercially developed by startup company Biomedical Bonding AB.

"We have finally managed to identify a surgically-realizable adhesive to fix bone fractures," says lead scientist Prof. Michael Malkoch. "The chemistry, materials and methodology we used result in extraordinary adhesion and fixation to the wet bone, which in most cases is incredibly difficult."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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