Developing a new bone cement for vertebral fractures
A new elastic bone cement can improve the treatment of elderly patients with osteoporotic fracture of spinal vertebrae. “The idea is to reduce the risk of new fractures,” says researcher Cecilia Persson.
Cecilia Persson studies biomaterials and biomechanics at the Department of Applied Materials Science at Uppsala University’s Ångström Laboratory. Seven years ago, she began to look for the perfect material to mend fractured vertebrae. She had seen the clinical need for a more elastic cement regarding spinal fractures, which frequently affect older people with especially fragile bones, also known as osteoporosis.
“Injecting bone cement is primarily a pain-relieving treatment. The problem with today’s cement is that it is very rigid compared to the bone into which it is injected. This can lead to new fractures occurring,” she explains.
Cecilia likens a vertebra’s outer surface to an eggshell and today's cement to stone. The new material makes the bone cement more sponge-like, mechanical properties that should thus hinder new fractures from occurring.
The invention itself combines partly new and partly established characteristics, of which elasticity is the most important. Product development takes place through the company Inossia, which Cecilia started in 2013 together with colleague Malin Nilsson.
“One big advantage of using an already existing cement as the starting point is that time to market can be shortened. The basic material is well researched and the cement manufacturer we chose to work with has a well-established sales and distribution organisation," notes Cecilia.
Inossia’s elastic bone cement is tested in a laboratory environment and some preclinical tests have been performed. The next step is to determine which additional tests and clinical studies are required for a CE mark. Other important steps towards commercialisation are to develop a product prototype and to further refine the company’s business model.
Inossia has been successful in attracting funds to finance these activities. In 2017 alone, and in the face of strong competition, it received funding from several sources, including EIT Health Proof of Concept and two calls for proposals from Sweden's Innovation Authority Vinnova: Innovative Start-ups and Medical Technology Collaboration Projects. Inossia has also received early-stage innovation support from UU Innovation and has participated in the business incubator Uppsala Innovation Centre's business development programme. During the autumn of 2017, the company was also given a unique opportunity to develop its European network of contacts as a participant in the sought-after EIT Health Launch Lab business development programme for new promising medical technology companies. Inossia was one of ten selected companies in Europe, and the only one from Sweden.
“The most exciting thing for Inossia right now is to develop our cooperation with the cement manufacturer and together find the best way to get the new material into the clinic,” says Cecilia Persson.
Osteoporosis causes the skeleton to become brittle and easily susceptible to fracture. Women are more vulnerable than men. Regarding spinal fractures, about 400,000 treatments where bone cement was injected into broken vertebrae were performed worldwide during 2010. By 2020, this figure is estimated to increase to 1.4 million. Within the EU, the proportion of people over 65 who have osteoporosis is likely to double by 2050.
Text: Lisa Thorsén