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Bone scaffold: engineering a game-changing health innovation

An award-winning PhD student is working with composite materials to create a revolutionary healing technology
July 16, 2014
By Laurence Miall

Ehsan Rezabeigi is working on a lightweight implant that can be surgically inserted into the body to support and promote bone regrowth.
Concordia student Ehsan Rezabeigi is working on a lightweight implant that can be surgically inserted into the body to support and promote bone regrowth. | Photo by Concordia University

“Imagine you lose a piece of bone by accident or disease,” PhD student Ehsan Rezabeigi told the audience of his three-minute thesis presentation in April 2013. “The healing process would be long and painful.”

So what’s the solution? Well, as Rezabeigi explained, “bone substitutes” — typically metal bars — have been the traditionally prescribed remedy. These were used on a large scale during the Vietnam War. But these kinds of bone substitutes are far from ideal. They’re heavy, can cause infections, and, sometimes, the body rejects the presence of a foreign material.

Ehsan Rezabeigi | Photo: Concordia University

Rezabeigi, who has won eight awards for conference presentations, is doing research on what has the potential to be an ideal successor to bone substitution.

Under the supervision of professors Paula Wood-Adams, also Concordia’s Dean of Graduate Studies, and Robin Drew in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, he is developing in three distinct phases a lightweight implant that can be surgically inserted into the body to support and promote bone regrowth.

Phase one involved synthesizing bioactive glass particles that are capable of feeding bone cells and helping them to grow. In phase two, he developed a novel technique of creating a highly porous polymer foam (a polymer is a structure made up of many molecules in a long chain).

This polymer foam has high-performing mechanical properties: It’s strong, and it can be used in load-bearing parts of the body like the shoulders and knees. The third phase of Rezabeigi’s research consists of combining the bioactive glass particles with the polymer to make a brand-new composite material: a bone scaffold. 

“The ideal scaffold has the same properties as bone. This is the goal we’re striving toward,” Rezabeigi says. The scaffold must be highly porous to allow for vascularization — the formation of blood vessels. This is, in part, what allows for bone growth. Meanwhile, small pores in the scaffold allow for cell attachment.

Electron microscope image of the polymer foam used to make “bone scaffold.” | Courtesy: Ehsan Rezabeigi

One of the most astonishingly futuristic properties of the bone scaffold is that it’s bioreabsorbable. In other words, it can safely dissolve into the body over time once it has completed its mission.

 “At the end of the process, you will have your own bone, without anything from the outside,” says Rezabeigi.

Originally from Iran, Rezabeigi completed his BSc and MSc in materials science and engineering at the University of Tehran, and started his PhD in mechanical engineering at Concordia in 2010.

He has already co-authored two papers in his field, published in Materials Science and Engineering and Polymer and has more publications in the works.

Most recently, Rezabeigi explained his research on the bone scaffold in front of an expert audience at the student-organized colloquium of the Centre de recherche sur les systèmes polymères et composites à haute performance (CREPEC), hosted by Concordia on June 6, 2014.

“Ehsan’s thesis project is a perfect example of the kind of multi-disciplinary and innovative research we nurture at Concordia and through collaborations with organizations like CREPEC,” said Paula Wood-Adams. “I’m thrilled to see him communicate his work so effectively. That’s a rare and coveted skill in academia, but becoming less so thanks to students like him.”

Learn more about the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.


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