How to mend a broken bone - try glue

How to mend a broken bone - try glue

November 5, 2008
(L) Normal bone (R) Bone with osteoporosis
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(L) Normal bone (R) Bone with osteoporosis

Excerpted with permission from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Chances are, if you're among the 1.4 million Canadians suffering from osteoporosis, you already know what it's like to break a bone - a long hospital stay and difficulty getting around. A Canadian research team is using a kind of super glue that will help patients with broken backs get out of the hospital quickly and return to an active lifestyle.

With the support of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Dr. Gamal Baroud of the University of Sherbrooke and his research team are improving how surgeons work with this super glue during a procedure called vertebroplasty. Vertebroplasty is used mainly for broken spines.

"When we talk about the hip, you can cut it out and put a piece of metal and it will work again. But when we talk about the spine, the nerve canal goes through the vertebrae, so you can't cut it out and put in a replacement," he says. "You have to repair it. There's really no other treatment at this time."

During vertebroplasty, a needle is guided to the spine and a small amount of liquid cement is injected into the break. The cement hardens after just 20 minutes, providing strength to the bone. It's like strengthening the foundations of a house by filling in the cracks with cement.

"Once done, up to 90 per cent of patients can walk pain free. They can leave the surgical table pain free," Baroud says. So, instead of days or weeks in the hospital, patients can leave after only a few hours.

But, the procedure is not without risks. One of the risks is that the liquid cement leaks out of the bone. The leakages can cause damage to the vertebrae and even be lethal.

Baroud and his team are working to reduce these risks and build a better product. They are experimenting with new mineral cements which closely resemble bone. The hope is that these new cements will actually help the bone rebuild itself.

In the future, Baroud says the technique could be used for all kinds of broken bones.

"I think this will expand not only in the spine but also in the location like the tibia, wrist and femur."

The infrastructure for this project was partially funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation.