Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard waves to supporters at the Labor Party election headquarters in Melbourne
The Queen Mother had a hip replacement operation in December 1995 REUTERS

Instead of metal and ceramic hip replacements, patients receive an implant made from a plastic material that stimulates new bone growth, and then gradually degrades. The result would be a new hip made of bone.

Scientists at Edinburgh and Southampton universities have created the artificial bone material, which has a honeycomb structure and acts as a scaffold for stem cells.

The results of their study, published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The stem cells attach themselves to the artificial material, and are then transformed into bone cells.

"We would like to start human trials, but we have to get regulatory approval, which takes time and is expensive. It will probably be five years until we start them," Professor Bradley at Edinburgh University told the Daily Telegraph.

Richard Oreffo, professor of musculoskeletal science at Southampton University, who also conducted research into the study, said: "If you have a hip replacement, and you have to have it revised after 10 or 15 years, you need bone stock to keep it from rattling around," he said.

According to the National Osteoporosis Society, there are about 300,000 fragility fractures in the UK every year, while some 14,000 people die due to hip fractures.

Hip replacements are not confined to the elderly or those with osteoporosis.

Significant numbers have hips replaced at a relatively young age. They then need second replacements as the original prosthetics wear out.

Problems have arisen recently with some types of 'metal-on-metal' (MoM) implants, which are meant to last longer. The concern is that as the hip replacements wear down, metal particles can be released from the artificial hip. These react with the soft tissue (such as muscle and ligaments) surrounding the joint and enter the bloodstream.

In 2010, the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a product recall for DePuy ASR, a brand of MoM artificial hip.

Channel 4 News reported that around 30,000 people in Britain have received MoM hip replacements.

The new artificial bone can also be used for mending broken bones as well as better hip replacements.

Professor Bradley added: "We are confident that this material could soon be helping to improve the quality of life for patients with severe bone injuries, and will help maintain the health of an ageing population."