Helping bone heal faster

January 29th, 2016

Where science, engineering and medicine converge: Findings result in merit-based travel award for this TAMBCD postdoctoral research associate.

What if the healing process for a dental implant could take, on average, just five weeks? It’s a far cry from the two- to four-month time frame often required in implant cases. Findings from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry researchers could make such an advancement a reality, and in a wide range of bone implant systems, at that.

Dr. Azhar Ilyas

Dr. Azhar Ilyas

These efforts in rapid bone fracture healing recently earned Dr. Azhar Ilyas, a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Assistant Professor Dr. Venu Varanasi, a merit-based travel award from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Postdoctoral Association. He’ll use the monetary award to travel to Los Angeles this March, where he’ll present findings during the 2016 American Association for Dental Research annual meeting.

Here, Ilyas outlines the premise behind the research.

“In this study, we showed that the fabrication of nanoscale films as coatings for implantable devices healed large bone defects within a 5-week period. The beauty of our work is that we can tune and tweak the materials’ properties in such a way that the bone chemistry of the newly generated bone exactly matches the surrounding bone,” says Ilyas. The methodology draws on his background in electrical engineering research: They utilize high-precision, nanoscale fabrication methods applied in the semiconductor and solar cell industry.

And the best part? “Since oral and maxillofacial bone has different biomechanical properties, we can modify the material properties accordingly,” llyas says. It’s the result of a perfect marriage between change on the bone’s surface and at the cellular level. “The surface chemistry promotes osteogenesis while nanostructured surface morphology enhances cellular response and improves osseointegration via mechanical bonding,” he adds.

Ilyas and Varanasi’s work is funded with a $228,000 National Institutes of Health R03 grant as well as supplementary grants. Collaboration on the project includes Dr. Phillip Kramer in biomedical sciences and individuals from multiple Dallas-Fort Worth health care and academic institutions, including The University of Texas at Arlington’s Dr. Pranesh Aswath in materials science and engineering and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital’s Dr. Harry Kim, who oversees its Center for Excellence in Hip Disorders.

Of the applications for the TAMHSC Postdoctoral Association Award, Ilyas’ was one of two selected. Dr. Preeti Sule, a postdoctoral research associate with the College of Medicine, also received the award for her part in developing a low-cost diagnostic tool for tuberculosis.

Dr. Kush Shah, co-president of the Postdoctoral Association and a postdoctoral research associate at the medical school, points out the common denominators between the recipients’ work that set them apart.

“These technologies have the potential to save millions of lives,” says Shah. “Dr. Ilyas’ and Dr. Sule’s applications have a unique translational medicine approach to solve real-world problems. Their technology and research is an ideal example of the confluence of basic science, engineering and medicine principles.”

For Ilyas, one of 15 postdoctoral research associates at the dental school, the organization has served as an invaluable resource in more ways than one.

“The TAMHSC Postdoctoral Association has been a great source of information, guidance and inspiration at different stages of my career here,” says Ilyas of the presentations and events coordinated by the group. “This process really helped me to learn, and to identify weaknesses and strategies to overcome those shortcomings.”

— Jennifer Fuentes