Associate Professor Simon Young, DDS, MD, PhD, of UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry is serving as co-investigator on a $2.3 million, multi-institutional federal grant (R01 DE031872) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health to help harness the healing power of semiconductor nanotechnology.
The Young Laboratory is collaborating with Venu Varanasi, PhD, MS, primary investigator, of the Bone-Muscle Research Center in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at The University of Texas at Arlington. Scientists from UTA, UTHealth Houston, Rice University, and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are also contributing to the project.
The multi-institutional team hopes to develop a new biomaterial to help accelerate bone healing in patients suffering from craniofacial bone defects and accelerate the healing timeframe.
“Our project is to make some new materials that can improve the healing rate for the fixative implants and improve the stability of the degradable materials so the bone can generate faster in both situations,” Varanasi said.
The research is focused on the use of a semiconductor biomaterial that induces a healing effect and minimizes immune responses and inflammation.
The scientists are using silicon oxynitrophosphide (SiONPx), a material similar to that found on a microchip, to help enhance antioxidant activity, which can help produce bone and vascular tissue required to heal the entire bone gap.
“Silicon is found in microchips, of course, so in a way, SiONPx could loosely be termed a ‘semiconductor biomaterial,’” Young said. “We utilize the properties of the SiONPx coatings to encourage bone formation in two ways — 1) silicon ions released by the coating enhance anti-oxidant pathways and bone regeneration and 2) the material itself helps to seed mineral formation during bone healing.”
Varanasi said this new approach was inspired by previous research involving plants and the element silicon, which spurred the production of enzymes that helped the plants survive traumatic conditions such as drought.
“I started producing data and found out that just like plants, mammals and humans produce the same type of enzymes,” Varanasi said. “No one created the link between the silicon ion and antioxidant mechanisms in mammals until our project.”
UTA is responsible for making SiONPx in their fabrication facility and testing in vitro properties. The Young Laboratory will perform all in vivo preclinical testing for the various formulations to test their performance, in the hope this technology can be moved toward clinical trials in humans in the future.
The R01 grant will be awarded over a five-year span starting in March 2023 for the project, titled “Semiconductor Biomaterials to Speed Bone Healing: A Bioengineering-Driven Approach.”
Young is also a faculty member at MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He is affiliated with the graduate school’s programs in biochemistry and cell biology, and immunology.