Pop-up lecture has legs

Glass is half-full in Biomaterials for Dr. Boyd

Throughout this semester, Dalhousie has hosted a number of “Pop-Up” lectures featuring different faculties, interesting research and other activities that have been going on.

Dr. Daniel Boyd, of the School of Biomedical Engineering, shared his informal presentation “Using Glass Materials to Treat Disease: From Windshields to Cancer Treatments” on Friday, Nov. 13, to an audience in the Mona Campbell building.

Boyd began his presentation by discussing the vast ways in which glass is used in this modern age — in buildings, in utensils, etc. — and that for all of this, we as innovators have just barely scratched the surface of its potential.

Glass, as a material, is largely made up of silicon — but in fooling around with it, and adding other elements, it can give it new properties. It is in these properties that Boyd is investigating improvements in how the body can be healed.

One specific instance of this is in the use of Bone grafts. Glass, as a solid material that can degrade gradually over time, can be used to support bone as it heals.

But what if the glass could be manufactured in such a way that it not only provides a structure for this healing, but can actively help?

It is with this goal in mind that the use of glass with Lanthanum emerged in Boyd’s work at Dalhousie.

Lanthanum, element 57 in the periodic table, had been previously tested in the lab as a potential element for use in trying to treat liver cancer with glass, but it was found to be ineffective as it instead would strengthen and make firm the silica in the glass rather than dispersing it.

Even though glass was not found to be a suitable material for treating liver cancer, its use in medicine would live on. In bone grafts, glass would provide a suitable basis to degrade at a consistent rate and allow for Strontium, element 38, to be absorbed easily and locally by bones and accelerate healing, rather than ingesting it orally.

Early testing seems to show that this could potentially be a significantly cheaper and more effective manner to treat conditions like Osteoporosis.

Boyd ended the talk in a way similar to how he began – by stressing that we are just learning new things about how we can use glass. Each element has the potential to be used within glass in new and novel ways. The problem that he and his colleagues face is simply that of identifying what and how to do so.

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William Coney

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