The University of Nottingham has secured £1.2m to develop injectable stem cell-carrying materials to treat and prevent fractures caused by osteoporosis and other bone-thinning diseases.

The experimental materials consist of porous microspheres produced from calcium phosphates – a key component in bones – to be filled with stem cells extracted from the patient. Researchers hope that the targeted therapy could offer a quick, easy and minimally-invasive treatment that is injected into areas considered to be at high-risk of fracture to promote bone regeneration.

The funding award, from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Challenge Award), also supports the development of a prototype delivery device to inject stem-cell-loaded microspheres. Research leads Dr Ifty Ahmed and Professor Brigitte Scammell say that their aim is to develop a preventive treatment to address the growing issue of fractures occurring due to bone-thinning diseases, which is becoming more prevalent due to the worldwide ageing population.

Dr Ahmed, from the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Nottingham, said, “We would advocate a national screening program, using a DEXA scan, which measures bone mineral density, to identify people at high risk of fracture due to osteoporosis.

“If we could strengthen these peoples bone before they suffered from fractures, using a simple injection procedure, it would save people the pain and trauma of broken bones and associated consequences such as surgery and loss of independence.”

The NIHR grant will also fund a Patient and Public Involvement study on the suitability of the technology, gauging the opinions and personal experience of people affected by osteoporosis as sufferers or carers, for example. Osteoporosis-related conditions affect three million Britons and cost the NHS over £1.73bn each year, according to the National Osteoporosis Society.