Flexoelectricity could be a factor in stimulating and guiding the cells responsible for forming new bone tissue following an injury, according to a study from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and published in Advanced Materials.

The work could have potential implications for the prosthetics industry and the development of biomimetic self-healing materials, according to researchers at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), a Severo Ochoa research centre located in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) Campus led by ICREA Prof Gustau Catalan.

Flexoelectricity is a property of some materials that causes them to emit a small voltage upon application of a non-uniform pressure. In microfractures it is localized to the leading edge or tip of the crack. The result is a flexoelectric field of such magnitude that, in the immediate vicinity of the crack, it eclipses any background collagen piezoelectric effect.

By studying strain gradients in bones and pure bone mineral (hydroxyapatite), the researchers have been able to calculate the precise magnitude of this electric field. Their findings indicate that it is sufficiently large within the required 50 microns of the crack tip to be sensed by the cells responsible for bone repair, directly implicating flexoelectricity in this process, explains a media release from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Furthermore, since the cells responsible for synthesizing new bone tissue (osteoblasts) are known to attach close to the tip, it would appear that the electric field distribution signals this point as the center of damage, becoming a moving beacon for repair efforts as the crack is healed.

These results hold promise for the prosthetics industry, where new materials that reproduced or amplified this flexoelectric effect could be used to guide tissue regeneration, leading to a more successful assimilation of implants, the release continues.

[Source(s): Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Science Daily]