Bone is a hierarchically structured composite consisting of a protein phase (type I collagen) and a mineral phase (carbonated apatite). The objective of this study was to investigate the hierarchical structure of mineral in mature bone. A method to completely deproteinize bone without altering the original structure is developed, and the completion is confirmed by protein analysis techniques. Stereoscopy and field emission electron microscopy are used to examine the structural features from submillimeter- to micrometer- to nanometer-length scales of bovine femur cancellous bone. Stereoscopic images of fully deproteinized and demineralized bovine femur cancellous bone samples show that fine trabecular architecture is unaltered and the microstructural features are preserved, indicating the structural integrity of mineral and protein constituents. SEM revealed that bone minerals are fused together and form a sheet-like structure in a coherent manner with collagen fibrils. Well-organized pore systems are observed at varying hierarchical levels. Mineral sheets are peeled off and folded after compressive deformation, implying strong connection between individual crystallites. Results were compared with commercially available heat-deproteinized bone (Bio-Oss(®)), and evidence showed consistency in bone mineral structure. A two-phase interpenetrating composite model of mature bone is proposed and discussed.
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