Medical practises for abnormal bone conditions, such as heterotopic ossification, are poorly understood. Medical treatment is limited to when bone formations become very noticeable, which is not early enough. Scientists from the Healthcare Technologies Institute have developed a new self-structuring model of bone tissue that simulates the architecture of real bone for the first time – a potential for future bone defect replacement, which can make a vast difference to a patient’s life.

The paper, published in Advanced Biosystems, explores the new model that creates complex, three dimensional structures that bare resemblance to tissues in the body.

The research team, led by Professor Liam Grover, Director of the Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI), Dr Alexandra Iordachescu, Research Fellow (School of Chemical Engineering), University of Birmingham and Dr Phillippa Hulley, University of Oxford, highlight the systems’ great potential for future transplantation and bone defect replacement. The project, funded by the National Centre for the Replacement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), also supports the reduction of the number of animals used for musculoskeletal research.

Recreating bone tissue in vitro (a process performed or taking place in a test tube, culture dish, or elsewhere outside a living organism), has been challenging to date because of its structural complexity and continuous remodelling. However, the new model simulates the construction of real bone for the first time by taking cells and putting them into a culture system that allows the cells to make, not only simple bones, but multi-layered constructions that are similar to tissues in the body.


The cells are able to produce mature bone over extended periods of time – with the possibility to grow in excess of a year. This time scale means that the bone constructs are responsive to a range of studies. Preliminary experiments by the team have shown that they can be used for screening novel compounds that might influence the ossification process - a study to understand normal bone development and repair as well as bone disorders.

Bone Growth


-  The full paper ‘An in vitro model for the development of mature bone containing an osteocyte network’ was published in Advanced Biosystems in January 2018

-  The Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI) at the University of Birmingham is changing the landscape of healthcare technologies. HTRI is striving to develop new sensor technologies and treatments that encourage better tissue healing and rehabilitation tools. HTI will develop novel, bespoke prosthetic devices that have better functions for patients, new ways to advance bone and bone structures, will support tissue regeneration and improve anti-scarring dressings, and find new methods of detecting brain injuries and cancers early.