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Gizmorama - April 12, 2017

Good Morning,

I read a very interesting story about the development of a moldable, bioactive foam that could replace skull bone lost or damaged during injuries. What a break through!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- New bioactive foam could replace lost skull bone --*

Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Connecticut are creating a new moldable, bioactive foam that could be used to replace skull bone lost during injuries and surgeries.

The foam becomes malleable when soaked in warm saline and hardens once fitted into place. The material wouldn't serve as a permanent replacement, but instead act as scaffolding on which new bone could grow.

The foam includes pores with a coating designed to attract new bone cells. As new bone regenerates, the foam disintegrates.

Currently, surgeons typically use bone grafts from the patient's hip to fill-in cranio-maxillofacial gaps.

"This is like trying to fill in a missing puzzle piece with the wrong piece," Melissa Grunlan, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, said in a news release. "These bone defects can cause tremendous functional problems and aesthetic issues for individuals, so it was recognized that a better treatment would make a big impact."

Using grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, Grunlan and her colleagues are currently testing different iterations of the foam.

"We want to find the ideal formulation that maintains the amazing shape memory properties of the foam while providing the optimal environment for stimulating new bone formation," said Mariah Hahn, a Rensselaer professor of biomedical engineering.

The foam has already proven to be biocompatible in test using animal models. Currently, Hahn is trying to better understand why different foam iterations encourage bone cell proliferation better than others.

"A moldable bone-promoting scaffold could have broad use if it's successful," concluded Hahn. "It takes advantages of the body's own healing ability, and it's a low-cost, 'off the shelf' solution that would not need to be pre-tailored to the individual defect."

*-- Scientists look for life's building blocks in outer space --*

Scientists have long theorized comets delivered key ingredients for life on Earth. Scientists in Germany are currently testing the theory.

Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum are replicating the conditions of outer space to test whether cometary chemical reactions could have yielded complex molecules like amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

The average comet hosts all of the ingredients necessary for amino acid construction -- oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon. Scientists suspect the molecule hydroxylamine, NH2-OH, could have served as an amino acid precursor. But researchers haven't been able to confirm the molecule's presence on a comet flying through space.

Scientists have studied space-based chemical reactions in the gas phase, but researchers at RUB are interested in the chemical reactions in the condensed phases, solids and liquids, on the surfaces of comets.

A pair of radicals are likely to form a simple, direct bond when meeting in a gaseous environment.

"However, if we observe the reactions in the ice, anything is possible," researcher Teddy Butscher said in a news release.

Researchers set up experiments to see whether simple molecules could evolve complex molecules like hydroxylamine in ice. Researchers supplied the ice with ammonia and oxygen and subjected the sample to high-energy radiation. Infrared spectroscopy helped scientists track chemical reactions inside the ice. Specific vibrations can reveal certain molecules.

At first, scientists were unable to locate hydroxylamine. The chorus of chemical vibrations from other molecules drowned out its signature. But when researchers heated the sample, sublimating other molecules, hydroxylamine's signature surfaced.

"I think that people had not been searching for it using the right methods until now," said researcher Yetsedaw Tsegaw.

The research is a promising first step in explaining the origins of life, but RUB scientists are quick to point out the impossibility of proving how life began. Researchers say they can only provide plausible theories backed by thorough research and scientific evidence.

"The creation of life occurred over a timescale that we cannot simulate," said researcher Wolfram Sander. "Even though our research is of fundamental importance, it will not be able to provide a definitive answer to this question."


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