Winning student story: Research revolutionising fracture treatment | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Winning student story: Research revolutionising fracture treatment

24 Oct 2022

Breanna Medcalfe is the winner of the 2022 UniSC Outstanding Frontline Research journalism competition.

Breanna is studying towards a Bachelor of Laws with some elected journalism courses, and chose to write about research that has enormous healing potential. Her winning story is below.

Ground-breaking research at The University of the Sunshine Coast is looking to revolutionise surgical implants – to reduce surgeries, cutting costs, and saving hospital and recovery time.

Typically, after a severe fracture, metal plates and screws are inserted to hold the patient’s bone together while it heals.

Usually, a second surgery is then required to remove these implants, due to the risk of complications, if they are left in the body for too long.

Kurt Mills, an innovative young researcher at UniSC, is studying the use of an absorbable zinc-based implant – instead of the usual steel or titanium.

Zinc decomposes at an ideal rate for healing and absorption, negating the need for its removal.

“They’ve done studies at how long it takes to break down, how much of its structural integrity remains against what the required need is, and zinc matches up pretty much perfectly,” Mr Mills said.

The impact this could have on the hospital system, surgical procedure methods, and recovery for patients would be significant, particularly among older patients whose bodies are sensitive to anaesthetic and have longer recovery times.

“The elderly are the ones usually at high risk of bone fractures, due to falls and brittle bones, so if we can eliminate that second surgery, then hopefully their chances of improvement are a lot better,” he said.

Because of concerns for the strength of zinc in this application, the current phase of the project is to apply intense strain to zinc samples, improving its mechanical properties.

Then, further testing and analysis will be undertaken, and a prototype will be made. The research team is now looking to secure further resources and funding to continue the testing and make this concept a reality.

His supervisor, Dr Damon Kent, said it was an exciting project.

“The aim is to develop materials for implants which support an injury while it heals and once the job is done, degrade away through the body’s natural processes,” Dr Kent said.

“Zinc ticks many of the boxes but we need to be able to make it stronger. Fortunately, there’s lots of opportunity to use materials engineering to do this and we’re already seeing promising results.”

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