Injectable, calcium-scavenging hydrogels to prevent premature bone fusion

Craniosynostosis, or premature fusion of one or more of the connecting sutures between bones in the skull, is a serious condition that affects many infants in the US (Figure 1A). If left untreated, these premature bone fusions can cause skull deformations, abnormal head shapes, and even neurological damage due to increased pressure on the growing brain from the diminished skull cavity. Children afflicted with these disorders are typically treated with highly invasive surgical procedures; in the most serious cases, the patient’s skull bones are cut out, re-shaped into a larger volume with proper symmetrical shape, and then placed back in the patient. Though these procedures have a reasonably high success rate, preventing these premature fusions would eliminate the need for large-scale surgeries and improve patient quality of life.

To this end, our lab is currently developing a calcium-scavenging hydrogel that can be injected into the sutures of at-risk children to prevent premature bone fusion (Figure 1B). For this proposed project, the Protégé Scholar will be heavily involved in the development of these injectable hydrogels. The Protégé Scholar will assist in characterizing these new hydrogels for their calcium-scavenging ability, time to hardening after injection, mechanical strength, and cellular toxicity in preparation for future pre-clinical testing in more complex biological models

6 drawings of bone and tissue

Figure 1. (A) Craniosynostosis, or premature fusion of sutures in the skull, leads to skull deformations and is debilitating in young children. We propose to develop

Drawing of bone and tissue

Figure 1. (B) injectable, calcium-scavenging hydrogels that will be deployed into the sutures of at-risk patients to prevent premature bone fusion.


Headshot of John Robert Martin

John Robert Martin

Assistant Professor, CEAS - Biomedical Eng



John R. Martin is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Martin completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky where he majored in Biosystems Engineering before obtaining a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University investigating cell-degradable tissue engineering scaffolds. Following his doctoral work, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Chemical Engineering where he researched drug delivery systems for the regeneration of craniofacial bone tissue.
Dr. Martin leads the Bioresponsive Materials Lab at UC, exploring “smart” biomaterial systems that leverage precise cell-generated signals (including reactive oxygen species and enzymatic activity) to activate biomaterial functionality and guide tissue regeneration. This interdisciplinary research integrates polymer science and materials engineering alongside pharmacology and biology to build new systems for regenerating orthopedic injuries in the clinic.