Bioactive Glass Made in Rolla, MO Helps Bone Grow After Spinal Fusion to Repair a Broken Back

    By Kathleen Berger in collaboration with MU Health Care

    In cases of broken backs, a newly FDA-approved biologic agent called NanoFUSE is helping to grow bone around braces once a spinal fusion surgery is performed.

    “NanoFUSE is a synthetic bone graft that allows us not to use cadaver bone, and it has a high rate of fusion, so patients are able to grow their own bones in a short period of time,” said Neurosurgeon Fassil Mesfin, MD, with MU Health Care.

    Once NanoFUSE is inserted, body fluids hydrate the bioactive glass and the surface of the braces become coated with a layer of a mineral called hydroxyapetite. New bone starts forming around the glass fibers, eventually taking the place of the glass particles.

    The bioactive glass used in NanoFUSE is made exclusively in Rolla, Missouri, by Mo-Sci Corporation, whose chief technology partner is Missouri University of Science and Technology.

    “Bioactive glass has many uses, but Missouri S&T looks at glass more broadly in health care,” said Mo-Sci Chief Technology Officer Steven Jung, PhD. “And that’s what makes them good partners.”

    Missouri S&T is finding new applications for bioactive glass in wound care, cancer treatment and orthopedics. MU Health Care is taking part in a clinical trial to further examine NanoFUSE and its effectiveness.

    The innovation was in readily available when Ellis Cordray, 19, broke his back in two places. The injury was the result of a one vehicle crash during a winter storm along a snow-covered road.  Ellis’ father, Larry Cordray, was the first person to arrive to the crash site near the family farm in Browning, MO.

    “I woke up in lying in a ditch to the sound of music on the car radio,” Ellis said. “I tried to stand up, and I got halfway there, but I fell back down. That’s when I reached for my phone. Luckily it was in my pocket and still working.”

    “It’s hard to tell how long it would have taken an ambulance to find him,” Larry said.

    Larry quickly made the five mile drive to the crash site. There, he found Ellis lying in the snow, 20 feet in front of the truck, wearing only one boot. The other was still wedged inside the truck between the dashboard and the steering wheel.

    Larry drove Ellis to the nearest hospital in Milan. X-rays confirmed Ellis fractured his spine in two places and also had a broken arm. He needed treatment at MU Health Care’s Level 1 trauma center, which is staffed and equipped to quickly treat the most severe injuries.

    MU Health Care’s multidisciplinary trauma team worked to stabilize Ellis when he arrived. Mesfin operated on Ellis’ spine the next morning.

    “Seventy-five percent of the time, patients with this kind of injury are not able to move their legs,” Mesfin said.

    During the two-hour spinal fusion procedure, Mesfin used rods and screws to stabilize the fractures in Ellis’ thoracic and lumbar spine. Then he coated the hardware with NanoFUSE to help bone grow around the braces.

    The mixture of demineralized bone and bioactive glass was mixed with the Ellis’ blood to form a putty. Then new bone starts forming around the glass fibers, eventually taking the place of the glass particles.

    Mesfin said this bioactive glass application in Ellis’ spine surgery contributed to his ability to take his first steps in the hospital just one day after surgery. Six days after his accident, Ellis returned home to Browning and his horse, Jules, that now inspires his recovery.

    While Ellis likely won’t be able to train or ride Jules for many months, he sees her as a partner in rehabilitation. Therapists gave him exercises to gradually stretch and strengthen his back. He now spends his time grooming, feeding and walking Jules around the property, careful not to lift more than 30 pounds. But he can’t wait to get back to training her for riding.

    “Training with Jules is part of my goal to get better,” Ellis said. “It’s something to work toward. As soon as the doctors says I can, I’ll get back to working with her.”