Healing Broken Bones With a Biodegradable Patch

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Depending on the severity of the injury, broken bones can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to fully mend. The process can be painful, life-altering, and disruptive, so many researchers are on the lookout for a better treatment that can reduce recovery time and discomfort. One of these researchers is UW-Madison professor Xuedong Wang. Dr. Wang and his lab team have designed something truly groundbreaking: A biodegradable patch that generates electricity from movement and effectively accelerates bone healing. 


Answer to a Complex Problem

Scientific research has shown that electricity can help speed up the process of bone regeneration, but previous treatments have required invasive surgical implantation and outside power devices. Traditional electrostimulation is a successful method for encouraging bone growth and healing, but the limitations are significant and deter many patients from pursuing it. After breaking a bone, the last thing many people want to do is go under the knife for a major procedure. Fortunately, Professor Wang’s solution eliminates these problems and opens a whole new door for medicine. 


How It Works

When placed over a bone fracture, the patch generates an electrical stimulation of approximately 4 volts. This continuous charge is created from small movements and it can be maintained for around 6 weeks, without the need for an outside power source. It converts mechanical energy produced by motion into electrical energy that will be applied to the area of concern. Plus, this thin, flexible patch is bioresorbable, so once the bone is healed, the components will dissolve into the patient’s body. It’s constructed from a substrate of poly (lactic-co-glycolic acid), which is a commonly used and FDA-approved biocompatible polymer. When animal tests were performed, the device absorption caused no complications and presented no need for surgical removal. 


Limitations in the Design

One potential limitation to the usefulness of this device is that when someone breaks a bone, it’s generally recommended to keep the area immobilized as much as possible. While it’s impossible to keep it completely still throughout the course of recovery, frequent immobilization aids in the healing process. In its current form, this biodegradable patch generates electricity from movement, which means the amount of energy it can produce is limited. Eventually, Professor Wang would like to look into alternative sources of mechanical energy, since there are nearly limitless movements happening within the human body on a daily basis. 


The Future

While further research and clinical trials are needed before this device can be utilized for humans, this technology is incredibly promising and we’re excited to see the biodegradable patch implemented in healthcare settings down the road.