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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 15:48 GMT
Tofu mends broken bones and teeth
Image of Dr Santin with the tofu material
The tofu material could be a gel or paste
A material made from the vegetarian food tofu could help repair broken bones and teeth, UK scientists believe.

The de-fatted soybean curd would act like polyfiller to fill in defects.

It has the added advantage of encouraging new bone to grow as it biodegrades and releases natural anti-inflammatory agents.

Inventor Dr Matteo Santin of Brighton University has teamed up with experts from the University of Naples and WessexBio to develop the material.

Bone filler

Many existing materials used to fill bone are derived from animal sources, which the patient's immune system can react to and reject as foreign material.

Dr Santin believes using the vegetable-based product should avoid this problem.

"The innovation is that it accelerates the growth of the patient's own bone, rather than using an artificial substitute which the body could react against.

This works like a scaffold and whilst it biodegrades the bone regrows into the scaffold.
Dr Jonathan Wilkinson from WessexBio

"Crucially, it also combats inflammation," he said.

He is hopeful that the tofu-based material would give dental implants a greater chance of success.

Dental implants are specially made posts that replace the roots of teeth that are missing to support a new crown, fixed bridge or denture.

In some cases the implant fails because it does not integrate with the jaw bone.

Teeth too

Dr Santin said: "It will be suitable for anyone who has lost a tooth, making implants available to many more people.

"We're keen to develop a gel or a paste which dentists will be able to use in any mouth, irrespective of the severity of the bone defect."

Image of a dental x-ray
It could be used to fix dental implants say the researchers

Dr Jonathan Wilkinson from WessexBio explained that some gaps in bone were too big for the body to bridge itself.

"This works like a scaffold and whilst it biodegrades the bone regrows into the scaffold."

He said, in the future, it could be used by orthopaedic surgeons and by surgeons doing complicated face reconstruction surgery.

"The third application is for use in wound healing. There is very good evidence that is would work well."

So far the researchers have tested the material in the laboratory.

With new funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), they hope to be able to test it in clinical settings.

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