A novel new treatment which could replace the need for bone grafting to help repair damaged or diseased bone is being developed as part of a cross-border research project involving students from Queen's University in Belfast.
Bone grafts are second only to blood transfusions on the list of transplanted materials worldwide.
At present there are two forms of treatment for bones in need of repair - an 'autograft' where the bone is taken from the patient's own body and replanted and an 'allograft' where the option is to use bone from a donor.
But postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers from the Belfast university and counterparts in Dublin are working on a bone graft substitute which would reduce the need for allografts or autografts.
Science Foundation Ireland, an agency run by a board appointed by the Republic's Department for Trade and Employment, have awarded funding for the research to Dr Glenn Dickson, head of the Tissue Engineering Research Team, Orthopaedic Surgery, at Queen's, and Dr Fergal O'Brien, Head of Tissue Engineering Research Group, Royal College of Surgeon's in Ireland to help develop the graft.
Speaking about the new research project, Dr Dickson, who is based in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, said: "Every year up to four million bone replacement procedures are performed worldwide which require the use of a bone graft or bone graft substitute.
"Our objective is that ideally the product would be one of the first fully functional, biocompatible, mechanically competent, bone promoting graft substitutes."
The joint project will aim to help repair damaged or diseased bone, by " evaluating the physical characteristics and the ability of the implant graft to facilitate actual bone growth".
Such bone scaffolds should be compatible with the patient, be mechanically sound and promote new bone formation while preventing infection or rejection, he added.
Dr Dickson said there is a global interest in regenerative medicine.
"It is important that Ireland, north and south, pool research resources ultimately for patient benefit and to support economic competitiveness in the global arena of regenerative medicine," he said.