Young innovators create new dental bone graft material

Drs Alessio D’Onofrio and Niall Kent new bone graft material inventors
Drs Alessia D’Onofrio (l) and Niall Kent (r), inventors of new bone graft material Aerograft

A new dental bone graft material looks set to bring a shot of innovation to the field of advanced dental surgery.

The duo behind the award-winning invention – Dr Niall Kent (24) and Dr Alessia D’Onofrio (26) – claim that the material delivers significant improvements on existing bone substitutes.

With their innovation taking first prize in a competition run by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub, the young dental entrepreneurs are now investigating ways to bring their innovation – a dental bone graft material called Aerograft – to market.


Filling the gap

In the ever-evolving field of implant dentistry and maxillofacial surgery, procedures vary greatly depending upon the clinical situation and the underlying condition of the patient. Consequently, a similarly diverse range of grafting materials is required to complement these techniques.

The main features required from dental bone graft materials are high levels of osseointegration and both high and low levels of remodelling. Kent and D’Onfrio, however, felt that current materials have low levels of osseointegration and fixed remodelling rates, which could be improved upon. In short, they argue, there is a clear need for improved dental bone graft materials to match the huge advances made in surgical techniques.

The most significant demand identified by dental surgeons is the adaptation of remodelling rate, but current biomaterial families consist primarily of calcium phosphate-based materials. The problem with these is that they take a very long time to resorb and have relatively poor levels of osseointegration.

The typical development pathway for these types of materials has been through the development of materials optimised for orthopaedic clinical procedures, which have then been translated for use in dental procedures, rather than being developed specifically for dentistry. The problem with this approach is that it neglects the demands from other fields that perform bone grafts, with respect to the properties required for the typical procedures each specialty treats.

Creating something different

Aerograft is a synthetic dental bone graft material that can be tailored to specific procedures and which its inventors claim is more effective than existing bone replacements. It comes in granule form, similar to other conventional grafting materials, and is used in exactly the same manner. The granules can be mixed with either blood or saline and then impacted into the void outlined for bone regeneration.

The huge advantage Aerograft provides as a dental bone graft substitute material is the ability to control the remodelling rate through changes in composition and density. This makes it an extremely novel and advantageous material that has the potential to become a platform to develop other innovative bone grafting solutions in dentistry where clinicians are currently being let down; especially to replace materials with low levels of osseointegration and poor remodelling rates. Aerograft enables the development of a small number of product compositions that have tailored remodelling rates that perfectly meet the demands of dental oral surgeons. Because of these benefits, its inventors believe the material could facilitate bone integration in nearly 600,000 dental operations worldwide each year.

Poor osseointegration and low rates of remodelling of grafting materials are leading causes of implant failure, which affects one in 10 dental implants and leads to further pain and cost to the patient. Aerograft is estimated to deliver near perfect (<90%) osseointegration rates compared to the traditional calcium-phosphate based materials (~45%). Coupled with its ability to control remodelling rates, Aerograft’s inventors are aiming to produce the perfect grafting material to address a number of problems associated with current materials in implant dentistry and orthopaedics.

On the open market

Earlier this year Niall entered a national competition run by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub. The Launchpad competition is designed to recognise innovation in engineering and technology in young entrepreneurs, and Aerograft was selected as the winner by a panel of prestigious judges and a voting audience. As well as being presented the first prize, the JC Gammon Award by the Duke of York, Dr Kent and Dr D’Onofrio have become members of the Enterprise Hub, which will give them access to funding and mentoring from technology business leaders to catalyse the growth of their business.

The first in-vivo studies of Aerograft will be conducted in the coming year, allowing for product refinement before full commercial readiness within the next two years.


Dr Niall Kent currently works within the EPSRC Frontier Engineering Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering at University College London. Prior to this, he completed his PhD at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, where he developed a novel cement for bone grafting.

Dr Alessia D’Onofrio is a qualified dentist from Italy where she graduated from university in Rome. She came to London after winning a scholarship from the Italian Society for Osseointegration to conduct research at Bart’s and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

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