University of Nottingham scientists are currently testing the new material
A material that can be squirted into broken bones, where it hardens within minutes, has been developed by UK scientists.
The toothpaste-like substance forms a biodegradeable scaffold over which the body's own bone grows.
Its makers, from Nottingham University, said it could help remove the need for painful bone grafts in many cases.
They are working to start clinical trials in the UK, and expect it to be used in the US within 18 months.
The "injectable bone" won a prestigious medical innovation award last week, and is the brainchild of Professor Kevin Shakesheff, from the University of Nottingham.
Its advantage over traditional bone cements is in the hardening process.
While conventional cements give off heat as they harden, killing surrounding cells, and making them unusable in some parts of the body, this polymer does not.
The material has the texture of toothpaste at room temperature, and when it rises to body temperature, this is enough to trigger the hardening reaction.
Professor Shakesheff said it was easy to inject into the right part of the body without a surgical incision, unlike bone grafts, which use bone taken from another part of the patient's body, such as the hip, to plug a damaged gap.
"Not only does the patient need to be opened up, he or she is left with a damaged area - using this would avoid that.
"We believe we can just insert the needle, follow it to the right spot and inject the polymer, which will fill the desired area, and set as hard as the bone on either side.
"Because the material does not heat up, surrounding bone cells survive and can grow."
Some limitations remain - even though the polymer is as hard as bone within minutes, the join between itself and old bone is weaker, and a leg fracture fixed this way would still need metal pins to stop it shearing apart when the patient tried to walk.
However, he said that the lack of heat as the substance set meant that it could potentially be used in other applications where a tough scaffold was needed to support the growth of new cells.
This could one day even stretch to other damaged areas such as the heart, he said.
Mr. Andy Goldberg, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and a co-founder of the Medical Futures awards, which honoured the invention last week, said: "This technology has fantastic potential.
"As an orthopaedic surgeon, being able to work with a substance that is flexible, as opposed to using hard bone will make a real difference.
"The fact that it doesn't heat up when in the body, like many other injectable substances is a significant breakthrough."
Professor Shakesheff has created a biotechnology firm to help develop and market the invention, and is now working to prove its safety so that it can be used in hospitals.
He said that the swiftest route to market was in the US, where the product could be available some time in 2010.
Professor Richard Oreffo, a specialist in musculoskeletal science at the University of Southampton, said that the material had potential.
"As I understand it, the advantage it has is that the patient's own cells and growth factors can be delivered with it, and because everything happens at room temperature, they are delivered intact to the patient."