New bones from used eggshells

Crushed eggshells could be the way forward in fixing bone damage, say researchers. If their study leads to new bone tissue growth, it could give a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘Walking on eggshells’..

Eggshells are probably one of the most discarded items in kitchens around the world. Once we break the egg to release its contents for our meals, the shells usually end up in the trash. Every year it is estimated millions of tons of eggshells are discarded from homes and commercial kitchens.

Yet these discarded bits are made entirely of calcium carbonate, a substance that is crucial for maintaining bone health.

Some people are known to crush eggshells into a fine powder that they use as a natural calcium supplement for the health of their bones. But this practice is prone to health risks as the shells could be contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis, which can cause salmonella infections.

Now researchers from the University of Massachusetts in the United States have used finely crushed eggshells to create a biomaterial that helps bones regenerate after having sustained damage.

In their study the researchers used an innovative process to create a medium that can help scientists grow new bone tissue by using eggshells in the lab and using rat models. The process involves adding finely crushed eggshells from chicken eggs to a hydrogel mixture. This allows them to form a frame in which new bone can form from bone cells.

Because the eggshells are made up of calcium, this allows the bone cells to both develop into bone tissue and harden faster. This could also speed up healing in the context of a bone graft, which is a type of surgery wherein specialists transplant new bone tissue at the site of a damaged bone to allow it to heal.

Although in the new study the investigators tested the method in rats, they argue that it should also safely apply to humans. In the case of humans, healthcare professionals would collect bone cells from the people that need this transplant in order to ensure that the ensuing tissue will be the correct match and that the body will not reject it.

“We have already filed a patent for it and are very excited about our results. We anticipate the process can be adapted for use in many significant ways to grow other tissues, including cartilage, teeth and muscle tendons,” the research team said. They also added that using eggshells to grow tissue for transplants would additionally encourage more sustainable living, since it could help reduce waste.