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Ulster University will collaborate with leading universities in the US and Ireland on a £1.5 million research project to revolutionise bone fracture healing in patients across the globe.

The research will be conducted as part of the US-Ireland R&D Centre-to-Centre programme, which is funded by the Department for the Economy, Science Foundation Ireland and the US National Science Foundation.

This research will develop pioneering magnesium-based orthopaedic implants that can be reabsorbed by the body after a fractured bone has healed. The implants will be developed in partnership with the National University Galway, North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University, University of Cincinnati and University of Pittsburgh.

A severe bone fracture often requires surgery using metal pins, rods or plates to ensure it heals in the correct position. These implants are most commonly made from stainless steel or titanium and often need to be removed after a fracture has healed.

The novel magnesium-based orthopaedic device being developed by the collaborating universities will encompass the lightweight and durable properties of titanium and stainless steel, along with the ability to be completely reabsorbed into the body. This innovative approach will reduce the need for their subsequent removal, lowering surgical risks to patients and decreasing associated healthcare costs.

Professor Brian Meenan, the lead researcher from Ulster University’s Nanotechnology and Integrated BioEngineering Centre (NIBEC) said: “Ulster University is at the forefront of pioneering research into functional biomaterials for applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

“As part of this research Ulster University has been awarded £300,000 to enhance key properties of magnesium-based implant devices. We will apply our extensive expertise is surface engineering technologies to better control magnesium alloy resorption in a way that offers improved medical outcomes in previously difficult to manage fractures.

“This research has a specific focus on delivering new orthopaedic implant devices for paediatric use, as the need for a second implant removal surgery is almost always required in children as their bones are still growing. This international partnership will see university experts in engineering and healthcare technologies collaborate with industry and clinicians to transform solutions for bone fracture healing.”

The partnership will also foster a culture of innovation in bioengineering research and education, providing opportunities for international research participation for undergraduate and post-doctoral students.

Ulster University’s research will be carried out by Professor Brian Meenan, Dr Adrian Boyd and Dr Patrick Lemoine.