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BRIC - BioResorbable Implants for Children

  • Head: University Lecturer Dr Annelie-Martina Weinberg, pediatric surgeon
  • Grant recipient: Medical University of Graz
  • Partners: AT&S Austria Technologie & Systemtechnik AG | Heraeus Medical GmbH | Graz University of Technology, Institute of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering | Graz University of Technology, Institute for Chemistry and Technology | Vienna University of Technology, Institute of Building Construction and Technology | Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Department of Material Sciences and Process Engineering

Implants that dissolve in the body

In the Laura Bassi Centre of Expertise BRIC, trauma surgeon Annelie Weinberg from the pediatric surgery ward of the Graz Medical University hospital develops revolutionary materials for implants that support the healing of broken children’s bones and are then absorbed by the body.

The motto is to keep children’s stays in hospital as short as possible and to avoid operations wherever possible, since operations are often traumatising for young patients because they are not easy to cope with psychologically. In order to reduce the number of operations, trauma surgeon Annelie Weinberg is researching the development of new implants that dissolve in the body. Implants are necessary in cases of difficult pediatric fractures because without stabilisation the bones could grow back together the wrong way. Usually the inserted implants have to be removed after about a year, which means another operation. A second operation could be avoided by using resorbable materials.

Children’s fractures heal differently from those of adults

The new implants would have the advantage of being much more elastic than the materials used until now, such as steel or titanium, and it would promote the bones' healing process. This is due to the fact that children's fractures need more flexible support compared to those of adults. One of the tasks of the BRIC project is to investigate special therapeutic differences which are hardly understood yet: how long should an implant remain in a child's body, what degree of rigidity and what mechanism must be guaranteed? Being the second research focus, this entire basic research will be covered by BRIC. The foremost objective, however, is the development of a resorbable material. Implants based on lactic acid or carbohydrate-derived molecules already exist, but they lead to hyperacidity of the cells and cause chronic inflammations in the body. This is why the BRIC research team works on the development of an alternative biocompatible material based on hydroxybutyric acid (3HB). 3HB constitutes a chemical compound that can be resorbed by the human body. It is produced by bacteria in the form of its polymer, poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) as microbial storage material. The materials that are developed in cooperation of Vienna University of Technology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, and Graz University of Technology, are copolyesters of 3HB and other PHA building blocks like 3-hydroxyvaleric acid and 4-hydroxybutyric acid. This way, it is possible to produce such PHA copolyesters with tailor-made mechanical and thermodynamical properties instead of the rather brittle material PHB, e.g. by adjusting the degree of crystallinity. Here the development of materials aims at suitable rigidities, flexibilities, and in-vivo degradation rates. Until the ultimate material is developed and ready to be applied in children´s surgery, the close cooperation of all research partners for several years is absolutely needed.

Pioneer in pediatric surgery

Born in Germany, Annelie Weinberg, consultant at the University Clinic for Pediatric Surgery in Graz, studied in Germany and Italy. She is among the very few female trauma surgeons in the German-speaking world and was the first woman in her specialist field to qualify as a university lecturer in 2001. She finished her specialist training in Braunschweig and Hanover, and during her maternity leave she established a rehabilitation centre adjoining the clinic so as to shorten the children’s in-patient times. She is the only woman to have written textbooks that point the way in the field of pediatric trauma surgery and has always stood up for making surgery and hospital stays suitable for children. In addition to her everyday work as a surgeon, she devotes herself to basic research in the fields of experimental biomechanics, molecular biology of fracture healing in children and to the research focus of resorbable implants. The Laura Bassi Centre of Expertise headed by her means the realisation of the project of a lifetime for the outstanding surgeon: “I have been researching resorbable implants for children for many years but funding was always poor because children represent too insignificant a market for the industry. This attitude is in the process of changing. With BRIC I can pass on my knowledge to the next generation of female researchers and realise scientific innovations.”