Research done by NASA suggests that astronauts lose up to 2% bone mass per month in space. This is because of the low level of force exerted on the skeleton in low-gravity conditions. However, research currently being conducted at the International Space Station, in collaboration with the Mass Challenge Alumnus LaunchPad Medical, could soon be the answer to the bone density loss crisis affecting astronauts.
LaunchPad Medical has created a bone adhesive called Tetranite™ that bonds to both bone and metal surfaces and can therefore be used to treat fractured bone and stabilize metal implants. CASIS, the research arm of NASA, and Boeing discovered LaunchPad Medical at a MassChallenge event where they were scouting out new technologies that could help with all aspects of space travel.
Tetranite could be potentially useful for astronauts because it involves a minimally-invasive procedure. Tetranite is injectable, self-setting, and it quickly stabilizes the bone within the body and later stimulates bone regeneration. Therefore, astronauts in space could potentially be able to perform the procedure within a confined space without invasive methods and without an operating room.
Research is simultaneously being conducted in the ISS and on Earth to compare how well osteoblast cells, the bone producing cells, react to Tetranite in a low-gravitational environment versus the control experiment on Earth. In addition to research being conducted in cell cultures in space, testing in animals has shown demonstrable evidence of its efficacy to bond to bone and metal surfaces and is not rejected by the body.
The discovery of Tetranite’s ability to glue underwater is due to its similarity in adhesiveness to barnacles and mussels.
“The inspiration to develop such a glue began in the ocean,” CEO and Founder Brian Hess explained. “Our inspiration, like other researchers, was that if Mother Nature has figured out how to develop glue, what can we learn from that? We wanted to create a glue that works well in a wet environment, so we looked at how sea creatures attach themselves to metal and to coral. We examined the mechanisms of these creatures, and we reverse engineered them.” Like the sea-creatures’ adhesive, the molecular compounds that make up Tetranite are from calcium and amino-acids, so “it’s no surprise that this material is well tolerated by the body,” he said.
Hess explained that LaunchPad Medical’s next step is to gain approval from the FDA to begin testing in humans. The startup is currently generating enough statistical data to make its case to the FDA so that it can achieve its goal: to serve millions of people on the planet that have musculoskeletal deficiencies from head to toe.
Photo Credit: NASA, Astronaut Joe Acaba with Bone Glue Osteoblasts
Leah D’Sa is a Junior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. She is currently a copyeditor for the school newspaper the Berkeley Beacon as well as Poetry Editor for the literary magazine the Emerson Review. She is looking to begin her career with health technology writing as she seeks to combine her lifelong love of writing and science.
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