Biomaterial: Designed for Engineering to make friends with Biological systems

Ever heard of prosthetics? What do you think they are made of? Gone are the days of wood and leather. They are now made of biomaterials which are basically non-viable materials that are designed in such a way that they are biocompatible to replace or repair missing tissue through implants. As a science, biomaterial engineering is more than 50 years old but the industry and its applications are big business in the 21st century with researchers making many advances in the recent years.

Biomaterials are either derived from nature or synthesized in laboratories comprising components like polymers, ceramics or composites. Medical field has the most applications of Biomaterials Market for passive functions like being used for a heart valve or more interactive functions like joint replacements and hip implants. Essentially biomaterials are used to construct devices which perform, augment or replace a natural function. They can also be a transplant material in the form of an autograft, allograft or xenograft. The demands in this industry are several-fold like comfort for the patient, biocompatibility, high performance and versatility to enable patients to lead as normal a life as possible.

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It has been accepted that no foreign material is completely compatible with our body and when a synthetic material is implanted into the body or interacts with body tissues, responses of the body differ. Based on these responses, biomaterials are classified as bioinert, bioresorbable, and bioactive biomaterials.

Orthopedic and dental applications represent a majority of the total biomaterials market. If someone experiences a joint pain, our immediate goal would be pain relief and a quick return to the normal, healthy and functioning lifestyle. This finally comes down to replacements of knees, finger joints, teeth, hips or such other skeletal parts. The reason for the pain could be anything form trauma and diseases to degeneration. Expansion in this field is anticipated due to rise in geriatric population, advances in technology and improvement of lifestyle, enough information for a better understanding of body functions and need for a much better lifestyle.

Some of the advances made in this industry in recent times were that sensor technology and software algorithms have developed in such a fashion that they have enabled the pacemakers to alter the stimulation rates by automatically responding to varied levels of patient’s physical activity. The first CRT-Cardiac resynchronization therapy devices have been available in the market for over the past 15 years and have improved their functionality over time.

Non-malignant cancer pain is treated by the use of implantable pumps made of biomaterials. This is because the blood brain barrier does not allow medication to enter the CNS-Central nervous system. The implanted programmable pumps deliver exact doses of numbness inducing drugs like morphine and reduce the pain considerably.

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The main properties of first generation biomaterials was- resistance to corrosion in moisture, fitting mechanical properties, shouldn’t give rise to carcinogenicity or toxicity in living tissue. But then after the success of these goals, the immediate step was to develop biomaterials to be bioactive due to which a significant progress in their applications in orthopedic and dental usage. Examples of this include ceramics, bioactive glasses and composites.

Further developments with biomaterial technology now mean the expansion of third generation biomaterials designed to stimulate specific cellular response. Popular examples of this are bioactive glass and porous foams that are designed to activate genes which stimulate regeneration of living tissues. Scaffolding materials that possess nanoscale features to mimic native extracellular matrix of the host are also being developed. At present the main focus is to develop artificial tissues having similar architectural features as the natural component.

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