Rights: The University of Waikato Published 9 April 2010 Download

When diseased bone is surgically removed from a person’s body, it is normally replaced with a substitute, which is most often harvested from the hip bone of that person. University of Waikato’s Dr Michael Mucalo has been conducting research into the possibility of using cow bone as a suitable bone substitute. In this video, Michael gives the rationale for his research and explains how the body can colonise and absorb the bone substitute into healthy bone tissue.


When you want to cure a bone defect in you or if you have some sort of problem of bone cancer and you need to replace bone which is diseased, basically you need to take bone from your own body, which is the gold standard, it’s the best thing to use, but they have to harvest that from somewhere. Where do you get it from? Usually from the pelvis. It’s very painful and distressing for the patient, and there is only a limited amount you can take out.

If we develop a bone substitute, which basically mimics bone or acts like natural bone, then we can reduce the amount we take from other parts of our body. So if we use cow bone, then this could be useful. It’s a natural resource, which is mostly wasted, and if we can make this high-value material out of it, it’s quite advantageous to the economy as well.

Other groups have sort of developed materials like this, but this research focuses on using the material as received with its architecture framework in tact. And in that form, it is still very useful as material for bone replacement, because basically what happens when you put it in the body, the body colonises it, the cells colonise it, and they try and create bone, new bone, near the implant and basically incorporate it into the body. And it’s ready to do that because it’s come from a cow, and our bone structures or bone porosity is very similar, so it happens quite easily.

The ideal outcome is if it interacts directly with the implant to form a direct chemical bond with the implant, so the bone tissue can remodel it and make it like its own tissue. That is the best way – that will anchor it in place and it will prevent it from being rejected.