University of Kent is collaborating with research
teams from the University of Warwick, Imperial College
London and University College London (UCL) to develop
novel forms of degradable glass for a variety of medical
applications, including new bone growth.
The Kent team, led by Bob Newport,
Professor of Materials Physics and Director of the
Functional Materials Group, has successfully steered
a joint bid to the Engineering & Physical Sciences
Research Council (EPSRC), which has released almost
£1million in new research funding to the partnership.
The aim of the research is
to investigate bioactive glasses and their possible
use for a variety of medical applications. Bioactive
glasses are significantly different to the glass used
for the likes of TV screens or bottles; for instance,
it is possible in some cases to produce a glass that
will actually prompt the body to grow new bone. In
all cases, the glass will dissolve safely away when
in contact with body fluids such as blood plasma.
Commenting on the project,
Bob Newport said: ‘The longer-term possibilities for
tissue regeneration, for example, are really quite
exciting – and even in the short-term these glasses
offer the possibility of surgical implant materials
with antibacterial properties and improved bio-compatibility.
The challenge we have accepted at Kent is not only
to synthesise the new materials, but also to begin
to understand their make-up at the level of their
Conventionally, a glass is
created by casting it in a furnace at high temperature,
but there is a chemical technique to manufacture the
glass at much lower temperatures from high-purity
chemicals. The sol-gel process, as it is called, extends
the region of glass forming, so that one can create
certain chemical compositions that were previously
impossible, and also create some unusual structures
such as a high level of porosity. This opens up the
possibility of building valuable attributes into the
glass: and this is in fact the focus of the new funding.
Key to the recently announced research support is
the development by the Kent team of a means of using
this route to make a series of bio-dissolvable glass
materials able to prevent the formation of bacterial
infection on surgical implants.
The newly-funded multidisciplinary
partnership – involving the synthesis and advanced
X-ray and neutron scattering expertise at Kent, a
leading solid state NMR group at Warwick and the Division
of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering at the Eastman
Dental Institute at UCL – will allow the scientists
to examine the relationship between the structure
and in vitro properties of this family of glasses.
In many ways this new project
builds upon the long-standing Kent-Warwick research
partnership in sol-gel materials, and complements
their work on silicate-based bioactive glasses undertaken
with the Tissue Engineering Group at Imperial College
and aimed at understanding the material’s ability
to promote bone regeneration.