Fixing broken bones without pins, screws

May 25, 2009 3:17:39 PM PDT
Metal pins and screws help to hold bones together after a bad break, but are they the best option? One research team is using its own experiences to find a more natural way of healing. One member of that team, Khalid Lafdi, knows about broken bones firsthand. Two years ago, Lafdi, an avid runner broke his ankle.

"I heard 'pop,'" said Lafdi, a professor of mechanical engineering and aerospace at the University of Dayton in Ohio. "God, that's it. Emotionally, I couldn't accept it, because for me it was the end of the world."

Lafdi went through two surgeries and had to have a metal plate put in. "You feel it pinching, especially in the morning," he said.

His pain pushed him to search for a new way to help bones heal -- minus the metal. Lafdi says the metal is too strong and ultimately weakens the bone.

"This always stays a foreign element in your body," he said.

Lafdi wants to replace metal with carbon-based repair parts. He's making plates that disappear over time and scaffolding for new bone cells to grow on. Since carbon is found naturally in the body, it means better healing, less pain and fewer surgeries.

"Carbon is an excellent material," Lafdi said. "Our civilization is moving into a carbon technology civilization."

Researcher Mary Kundrat's also has an injury-filled past. An injury during a softball game has led to eight knee surgeries.

"I have a stainless steel screw in my left foot," said Kundrat, who works alongside Dr. Lafdi at the University of Dayton. "I have three titanium pins in my right knee. I have a screw through my right femur, and I have a screw through my right tibia."

She's using a computer program to find the best places for bone cell growth.

"I've been very interested is seeing what we can do to really help patients' quality of life be better, because from a personal standpoint, it's not fun having foreign materials in your body," Kundrat said.

The team uses their own aches and pains to find new ways to heal bones, paving a new path for healing. The carbon material Dr. Lafdi is using to repair bones is already used as a heat-resistant component of space shuttles. Testing could begin soon in Europe.

Web produced by Maura Sweeney