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Gulden Camci-Unal, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, has always been interested in unconventional approaches to solve problems. She once used her passion for origami — the Japanese art of paper folding — to build tiny 3-D structures in which biomaterials could be grown in the lab to generate new human tissue.

Now, in a new novel approach, Camci-Unal and her team of researchers say they have found a way to use eggshells from chickens to grow and heal bones.

The technique might one day be applied to repair bones in patients with injuries due to aging, accidents, diseases, or in military combat, according to Camci-Unal, the lead researcher.

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Here’s how the process works: crushed eggshells are inserted into a polymer mixture that forms a miniature frame to grow bone in the laboratory that is then used for bone grafts. When the mixture is combined with bone cells, the cells grow back much harder.

This can result in faster healing since the cells are depositing more minerals in the bones.

“It was amazing to see those bone cells produce more minerals, which indicate that they will make bones faster,” Camci-Unal said.

The findings were published recently in the academic journal Biomaterials Science.

In some procedures, surgeons must take a piece of the patient’s bone or bone from donors, to repair defects. That may lead to immune rejections or infections.

If the new research holds true, the approach may help avoid those problems because the bone cells come directly from the patient.

Using eggshells — which are primarily made of calcium carbonate — to prompt bone growth also provides a sustainable way to reuse them while advancing the technology behind these procedures, according to the researchers.

Global waste of discarded eggshells typically amounts to millions of tons annually from household and commercial cooking. By repurposing them, we can directly benefit the economy and the environment while providing a sustainable solution to unmet clinical needs,” Camci-Unal said.

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Other members of the research team are Sanika Suvarnapathaki, Xinchen Wu, and Darlin Lantigua, who are biomedical engineering and biotechnology PhD candidates at UMass Lowell.

With research going on for over a year now, Camci-Unal says they are just getting started.

“We have so many ideas to try,” she said. “In terms of utilizing eggshells as a biomaterial, we’re in the beginning.”


Maysoon Khan can be reached at maysoon.khan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maysoonkhann.