Healthy Bones? It's All In the Glue!

Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have discovered an adhesive or "glue" that holds together the mineralized collagen fibrils (also known as protein fibers) of human bone. An interdisciplinary group of scientists have located structures inside the glue that work sort of like "springs," uncoiling inside a stressed bone and allowing it to absorb shock. The springs coil back to their original structure once the stress is released.

Bone glue: Individual collagen fibrils are held together with glue filaments (arrows).  Courtesy Hansma Lab, UCSB
Bone glue: Individual collagen fibrils are held together with glue filaments (arrows). Courtesy Hansma Lab, UCSB

Six years ago, UCSB researchers discovered a similar kind of "molecular shock absorber" inside the shells of abalone. "It's truly remarkable to find the same fundamental mechanism operating in bone," says Daniel Morse, director of UCSB's Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies.

Scientists have long known that protein fibers are important for bone health, but haven't understood how these fibers actually hold together. They now believe that the shock- absorbent "springs" give young, healthy bone its resiliency and resistance to fracture, helping to heal small microcracks soon after they've formed.

UCSB researchers hope their discovery will pave the way toward new medical treatments for bone fracture, a serious health problem among the elderly. "Cancer and heart disease can kill you," says Morse, "but bone fracture and arthritis make you miserable." Human bone density typically peaks around the age of 30, decreasing through the rest of our lifespan. "As if this weren't bad enough, it is also true that the material properties of the bone decrease with age," says UCSB physicist Paul K. Hansma. "Not only is there less bone, but what exists is less strong. The cause of this is not well understood. . . The thing that's exciting about this research is that we've identified a mechanically important component of bone." Hansma hopes that the exact molecules in this bone "glue," once identified, can become targets for diet or drug therapy.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Steve's picture
Steve says:

The glue that holds bones together is interesting stuff. It seems to me that if a person's bones had more of this glue that they would be more resilient. Is this a key to many person's osteoporosis problems?

posted on Thu, 07/21/2005 - 9:36am
Rachel's picture
Rachel says:

Hi Steve,

I think that's exactly what researchers hope to find out. Better understanding the properties of "healthy bone" will no doubt prove invaluable in understanding what causes "unhealthy bone" and how to treat it. You can read more about osteoporosis by clicking here.

posted on Fri, 07/29/2005 - 5:05pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Can this glue be helpful in "IO"?

posted on Sun, 11/04/2007 - 3:34am
bryan kennedy's picture

IO? What is IO? I don't understand what you are asking.

posted on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 11:09am

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