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Eggshells End Up in the Trash, but They Could Revolutionize Health Care

Hydrogels
A new study out of UMass Lowell shows eggshells, which most of us throw in the trash, could help grow and heal human bones.

07/15/2019
WCVB

LOWELL, Mass. — Millions of eggshells are thrown out in homes and restaurants after they are cracked to make a batch of scrambled eggs or whipped up in a dessert recipe.

They’re carted away to the garbage dump, but the shells could help grow and heal human bones, according to a new study out of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Eggshells, which contain calcium carbonate, a property that improves bone health, were combined in the lab with hydrogel, a squishy, flexible material made of more than 90% water. Commercially available bone cells were added to the mix, the MetroWest Daily News reported.

Results showed an increase in bone cells’ ability to grow and harden, which could result in faster healing.

“A big deal,” is how lead researcher Gulden Camci-Unal, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, described the outcome, because it could eventually result in clinical applications, like repairing broken bones. Other potential applications include growing cartilage, teeth and tendons, Camci-Unal said.

Possible human application would involve bone cells from a patient added to hydrogel and crushed eggshells. The mixture is cultivated in an incubator, and the resulting new bone is implanted into the patient.

There is less chance of rejection by the immune system, because bone cells come from the patient.

UMass Lowell researchers spent 18 months on the study. The university is in the process of securing a patent, and more laboratory experiments are planned before any possible human application.

The health benefits from eggshells are nothing new.

Previous experiments by the National Institutes of Health showed eggshell powder reduced pain and improved bone density in postmenopausal women and women experiencing osteoporosis.

The UMass Lowell study is unique, because eggshells are combined with hydrogel and bone cells. Hydrogel was chosen, Camci-Unal said, because the university uses it in tissue-engineering studies. Plus, the gel made it possible to incorporate human bone cells.

Future clinical applications could happen, and that gets Camci-Unal excited.

″(The study) made useful biomedical material,” Camci-Unal said. “This bio-compatible material could be used clinically, to address important health problems.”