Repairing Fractured Bones by Use of Bioabsorbable Composites

Less surgery would be necessary, and full strength would be restored sooner.

A proposed method of surgical repair of fractured bones would incorporate recent and future advances in the art of composite materials. The composite materials used in this method would be biocompatible and at least partly bioabsorbable: that is, during the healing process following surgery, they would be wholly or at least partly absorbed into the bones and other tissues in which they were implanted. Relative to the traditional method, the proposed method would involve less surgery, pose less of a risk of infection, provide for better transfer of loads across fracture sites, and thereby promote better healing while reducing the need for immobilization by casts and other external devices. One requirement that both the traditional and proposed methods must satisfy is to fix the multiple segments of a broken bone in the correct relative positions. Mechanical fixing techniques used in the traditional method include the use of plates spanning the fracture site and secured to the bone by screws, serving of wire along the bone across the fracture site, insertion of metallic intramedullary rods through the hollow portion of the fractured bone, and/or inserting transverse rods through the bone, muscle, and skin to stabilize the fractured members. After the bone heals, a second surgical operation is needed to remove the mechanical fixture(s). In the proposed method, there would be no need for a second surgical operation.

The proposed method is based partly on the observation that in the fabrication of a structural member, it is generally more efficient and reliable to use multiple small fasteners to transfer load across a joint than to use a single or smaller number of larger fasteners, provided that the stress fields of neighboring small fasteners do not overlap or interact. Also, multiple smaller fasteners are more reliable than are larger and fewer fasteners. However, there is a trade-off between structural efficiency and the cost of insertion time and materials.

The proposed method is further based partly on the conjecture that through-the-thickness reinforcements could be excellent for fixing bone segments for surgical repair. The through-the-thickness reinforcements would superficially resemble nails in both form and function. Denoted small-diameter rods (SDRs) to distinguish them from other narrow rods, these reinforcements would be shot or otherwise inserted through adjacent segments of fractured bone to fix them in their correct relative positions (see figure). Shot insertion would be effected by use an applicator that would amount to a miniaturized and highly refined version of the pneumatic guns often used in carpentry to drive nails and brads. The applicator, envisioned to be about the size of a ball-point-pen, would be driven by pressurized carbon dioxide. To further promote stabilization of the segments, layers of bone glue could be applied to the fracture surfaces prior to insertion of the SDRs. The bone glue could be therapeutically loaded with chemicals to promote growth of bone and fight infection.