New Ways Biomaterials Are Changing Health Care

This Line of Study Has the Potential to Change How We Diagnose Diseases

The Latest Ways Biomaterials are Being Used in Health Care
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Biomaterials are becoming an important part of many therapeutic and diagnostic procedures, and the research in this field is growing rapidly. Some of the most exciting areas are orthopedics, ophthalmology, cancer treatments and dental care.

A biomaterial is a substance that has been engineered to take a form that is used to direct the course of a therapeutic or diagnostic procedure. Although a lot of the studies on biomaterials are done on animal models or in-vitro at the moment, scientists predict that findings will soon be used in human trials.


Ophthalmology and BioMaterials

Amniotic membrane (AM) has been used in the reconstructive surgery of the eye for many years. Recently, new techniques have been proposed to make replacing the cornea more efficient. This particular surgery is often performed when there is a permanent injury to the eye caused by a disease or chemical burns.

AM is obtained from the innermost layer of the placenta and has anti-inflammatory and anti-scarring properties, which makes it a good membrane substitute. However, AM tissue is naturally thin and clouded, which can affect a person’s vision. Scientists are now researching ways to toughen and optically clarify AM by creating a tissue laminate. They believe that their findings will help advance AM in ways that better apply the material in the reconstructive surgery of the human eye. 

Biomaterials for Improved Cancer Diagnostics and Treatment

There has also been a lot of progress using different biomaterials in treating cancer.

These include using original materials to establish the diagnosis and prognosis of different cancers, as well as using them to deliver anti-cancer drugs in a more effective way. Therapies that target tumors directly have been recognized as a preferable way of treating cancer.  They are able to deliver bigger blows to cancer cells and cause fewer side effects.

For the purpose of localized cancer therapy, researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia, designed and engineered a 3D titanium wire-based implant with titania nanotube arrays that can be loaded with a cancer drug and serve as a drug delivery device. Their studies showed that when cancer therapy is delivered with the new implants, breast cancer cells became less likely to survive. During the course of their research, three days after the insertion of the implant, the tumor cells started to regress. The researchers also emphasize that this new chemotherapeutic approach could be adapted to other types of cancers in the future.

Delivering drugs to the exact site of a lesion is an approach that is also being tested in other areas of medicine. For instance, drug-resistant bacterial infections, which have become a growing problem because of the overuse of antibiotics, might be treatable using the latest advancements in biomaterials. Silver core-embedded mesoporous silica nanovehicles have already been used on mice models to deliver antibiotics to the areas of the resistant infection.

In animal research, nanoplatforms have been shown to be very efficient at killing bacteria, simultaneously using both silver and antibiotic agents.  

Cartilage Tissue Engineering

Dr. Tanya Levingstone from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) is exploring another exciting area of biomaterials research. Levingstone is a part of the Bone and Tissue Engineering Research Group. This group has made some significant progress in designing a material that can help regenerate damaged joints. The research team joined forces with the research center AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) and developed a 3D multi-layered porous scaffold that consists of collagen, hydroxyapatite and hyaluronic acid. All these substances are present in a healthy joint and have the potential to actively direct the body’s cells to repair damaged joints.

In their most recent studies, the Irish researchers tested the compound on a 15-month-old thoroughbred filly. The horse was suffering from a degenerative disease of both of her knee joints known as osteochondritis dissecans. Some cases of this condition can be so severe in animals that they need to be euthanized. After undergoing a routine arthroscopic procedure that removed the unstable knee fragments, the multi-layered scaffolds were implanted into the horse’s joints. As a result, new bone and cartilage formed, as revealed by an investigation five months after the initial procedure. The young horse with previously grim prospects is now back to training for show jumping events.

The material has been patented and it is now known as ChondroColl. It is the team’s second product in the field of bone regeneration. Previously, they engineered and tested a bone regeneration scaffold called HydoxyCall, which is already CE approved and has been brought to the market by a start-up company from RCSI, called SugarColl Technologies. ChondroColl is currently awaiting regulatory approval, and the first studies on humans with osteochondral defects are expected to commence in the near future.

Suppressing Tooth Decay

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania are looking into better ways of removing dental plaque that can sometimes cause the onset of tooth decay. They engineered catalytic nanoparticles with peroxide-like activity that can disturb the protective matrix that surrounds bacteria found in your mouth. This novel strategy has so far been tested on rodent models and has shown a significant decrease in tooth decay. The team hopes to soon apply this knowledge to treating human oral disease. They are proposing to possibly include the catalytic nanoparticles with peroxide into commercial toothpaste and mouthwash products as a new antiplaque strategy in the fight against tooth decay.


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