Human bone grafts can be complicated. In the early days, they typically involved two surgeries, the first to remove bone from part of the body and the second to graft that bone onto another part of the body. For decades, scientists have been working to simplify the process by using artificial bone in place of real bone. Coral, which closely resembles human bone in structure, has been among the most promising substitutes.
Unfortunately, coral skeletons are made of calcium carbonite, which breaks down in the human body before new bone can grow on it, so it can’t be used as-is. While researchers have developed a variation of coral that doesn’t degrade as quickly once grafted, challenges remain.
Scientists want to learn more about how coral skeletons form so they might improve the process of using coral in human bone grafts, since human bone and coral skeletons are structurally similar. Their findings also could bring scientists closer to finding new approaches for healing human fractures, and for treating deeper skeletal and spinal problems. In addition, such insights also could help safeguard coral reefs, which have coming under increasing threat from rising ocean temperatures, pollutants, ocean acidification and rising seas.