Scientists at a the University of Warwick are turning to car technology to find a new way of helping hospital patients.

Researchers at the Warwick Manufacturing Group, based at the University of Warwick in Coventry, are developing a method of producing synthetic bone, using techniques normally used to make catalytic converters for cars.

The bone implant team is working closely with Warwick Ventures, the university’s technology transfer office, to find a commercial partner.

The technique is being developed by Dr Kajal Mallick along with his postgraduate researcher James Meredith. They strongly believe it could offer substantial clinical benefits to patients undergoing bone implant surgery.

Of particular interest is surgery for hips and knees, and even on the spine.

Dr Mallick said the technique involves state-of-the-art extrusion of the implant material through a mould, to produce a 3-dimensional honeycomb texture, with uniform pores throughout. The material can then be sculpted by the surgeon to precisely match the defect.

After implantation, bone cells will be transported into the implant and begin to form new bone.

Dr Mallick said: “We worked with a Japanese company which manufactures catalytic converters and used their facility to produce samples which we could then test in the laboratory. We found that we were able to use calcium phosphates – a family of bioceramics that are routinely used in bone implant operations - but by using this technique we were able to improve significantly both the strength and porosity of the implant. At the present time, there is no product available in the market place that satisfies both these key properties simultaneously. It is nearly an ideal scaffold structure for efficient blood flow and formation of new bone cells.”

The increased strength of the material means it could be used in spinal surgery, or in revision hip and knee operations, where currently non-degradable materials such as titanium or steel may be used.

Dr Mallick said one advantage of the technique was that the implant could quickly be filled with blood vessels, resulting in a faster healing process.

James Meredith, who is working to complete an Engineering Doctorate at Warwick, said: “The synthetic bone we are developing is as strong as normal healthy bone yet porous enough to allow bone cells to inhabit it and generate new bone. Over a period of time, we expect the synthetic bone will resorb, leaving only natural bone.”