HAMPSHIRE scientists have created artificial bone that could be used to heal shattered limbs.

Researchers from the University of Southampton have used stem cells and a degradable plastic to create a rigid material that can be inserted into broken bones, encouraging the real bone to re-grow.

Working with colleagues from Edinburgh University, they have developed the artificial bone into a honeycomb-shaped scaffold structure that allows blood to flow through it, enabling stem cells from the patient's bone marrow to attach to the material and grow new bone.

Over time, the plastic then slowly degrades and the implant is replaced by newly grown bone.

Scientists developed the material by blending three different types of plastics.

They used a pioneering technique to combine and test hundreds of combinations of plastics, to find a blend that was robust, lightweight, and able to support bone stem cells.

The team is hoping to begin human tests after successful results in the laboratory and in research using animals during a seven-year study, which has been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Richard Oreffo, Professor of Musculoskeletal Science at the University of Southampton, said: "Fractures and bone loss due to trauma or disease are a significant clinical and socioeconomic problem.

“This collaboration between chemistry and medicine has identified unique candidate materials that support human bone stem cell growth and allow bone formation. Our collaborative strategy offers significant therapeutic implications."

Professor Mark Bradley, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry, added: “We were able to make and look at a hundreds of candidate materials and rapidly whittle these down to one which is strong enough to replace bone and is also a suitable surface upon which to grow new bone.

“We are confident that this material could soon be helping to improve the quality of life for patients with severe bone injuries, and will help maintain the health of an ageing population.”