Medicine photo

First, there was the wooden peg leg. Then came bone replacements made of various metals and ceramics. Now, in the 21st century, we’re back to wood. But this ain’t your average sea dog’s pine prosthesis; researchers in Italy have found a way to turn wood into synthetic bone that’s so similar to real bone that it never has to be replaced.

By heating and processing rattan wood — think wicker furniture — at very high pressures and adding calcium and phosphate along the way, researchers at the Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics in Faenza fabricated a load-bearing synthetic so durable and so bone-like that, unlike ceramic and metal bone and joint substitutes, it never has to be replaced. Surgeons have already successfully implanted the artificial bone into sheep, demonstrating that real bone will actually fuse with the material, eventually making it hard to see where synthetic ends and real biological material begins.

It’s unlikely the process will be available to human patients for at least five years, but with the science perfected, accident victims, cancer patients and those with degenerative bone diseases should be able to have replacement bone whipped up in custom batches in just ten days time. Check out BBC video coverage of the process here.