From the sea to your mouth: shark teeth for bone regeneration

Researchers from University of Vigo take advantage of the fishing in order to make new materials for medicine and surgery

Biofast project transforms teeth into synthetic materials. Foto: Novos Materiais.
Biofast project transforms teeth into synthetic materials. Foto: Novos Materiais.

Vigo‘s port is one of the most relevant in the world for fishing industry. One of the peculiarities of this place is its importance in the field of marketing species such as shark. Although the catch volume has declined in recent years, Berbés market last year auctioned a total of 1,757 tons. Although part of this amount is discarded, some find a way to take advantage of different shark’s species.

Researchers from the New Materials group of the University of Vigo have been working for years on the recovery of discards and by-products from fishing, specifically from a relatively “small” and hidden part of the animal: its teeth.

Why the shark teeth?

Pío González, one of the main researchers of the Biofast project (Bio Fluor Apatite Shark Teeth), explains the advantages of shark teeth (specifically blue shark and shortfin mako shark). The physicochemical characteristics and composition of this biomaterial make it optimal for bone grafting.

Unlike synthetic materials, or other animals, the shark tooth contains a significant percentage of fluoride, phosphorus and calcium, as well as other minor components such as potassium, magnesium and strontium.

“Synthetic materials do not have the properties that these elements provide,” researcher says: “And the implants of other animals, such as cow or pig, can transmit some diseases that the shark, being a maritime species, does not have”.

The elaboration process

“When due to some pathology, such as cancer or trauma, a loss of bone material occurs, it does not regenerate; it does not cover the entire cavity again,”, explains González. In addition, González points out that, due to population aging, bone regeneration products are increasingly necessary.

Currently, the material manufacturing process is optimized for simple industrialization. Once removed, the teeth undergo a basic wash; then the grinding process is carried out, then the piece is subjected to high temperatures with a specific heating ramp.

The researcher explains that during this process all the organic parts are eliminated; only the mineral elements remain: “Then you get a fraction, a granulate, which is the product of interest to dentists, for example, when they need to fill a bone cavity for the regeneration of the jaw”.

González clarifies that the final product is not an implant itself, but a granulate that prepares the soil for it. He returns to the example of dentistry: “A previous operation is done where the gum is opened; the filling is placed and a few months are expected, so that the gum has enough bone material to add a dental implant ”.

The future and the transmission to the market

“Participating in IGNICIA was a new vision of our work; we are researchers, the issue of the market escapes us. ”This qualitative leap was a source of funding and supervision by specific personnel in the business field:“ In this way we can explore how far this product reaches the market”.

A project for the future could be to obtain articles derived from this first product, as variants in the aspect of the presentation, or towards the field of personalized medicine.

The next step is the signing of a contract to finally achieve the objective of the project:  transmission of research results to the market. In this sense, the researcher affirms that there are already interested companies and that negotiations are already underway to begin the final stage.


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