Front-of-Mind:- Current status of biomaterials research and development

Biomaterials play an important role in medicine today - restoring function and facilitating healing for people following traumatic injury or disease. Biomaterials can be classed as natural or synthetic and are used in medical applications to support, enhance, or replace damaged tissue or a biological function. Today’s field of biomaterials is highly transdisciplinary – combining materials science, physics, chemistry engineering, computer science, biology and medicine. The field has grown significantly in the past decade due to game-changing discoveries and innovations in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, nanomedicine and sensor technology, to name but a few.

Clinicians, research scientists, and bioengineers currently use biomaterials daily for a variety of wide-ranging applications:

  • Medical implants, including artificial joints, tendons and ligaments; dental implants; devices that stimulate brain or nerve activity; heart valves, stents and grafts.

  • Regenerated human hard and soft tissues, using a combination of biomaterial-based scaffolds, cells, and bioactive molecules.

  • Techniques to promote healing of human tissues, which include sutures, staples and clips and dissolvable dressing for wound closure and healing.

  • Nanoparticles that cross-over biological barriers, thereby allowing real-time and molecular-level imaging and therapy.

  • Biosensors to detect and measure specific substances and wirelessly transmit that data for further analysis.

  • Delivery systems that apply drugs and/or bioactive cargoes to target a specific disease.

What are the important areas for future research on biomaterials?
From a therapeutic point of view, immunomodulation refers to any process in which an immune response is altered to the desired level. Immunomodulating biomaterials have the potential to treat widespread chronic diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the pancreas cannot make insulin because the immune system attacks it and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Many leading research groups are developing injectable and degradable particle-loaded biomaterials that have been shown to control the effects and in some cases reverse Type 1 diabetes in small animal in vivo studies.

Supramolecular biomaterials that leverage motifs based on supramolecular chemistry to produce functional materials that have applications in therapy, diagnostics or devices to advance healthcare. In the coming years, an increasing number of research approaches underpinned by supramolecular biomaterials will translate to the clinic, and that these efforts will further verify the efficacy of the supramolecular toolbox for disease treatment. Sustained fundamental advancements in the molecular engineering of new supramolecular motifs, as well as in-service performance studies assessing materials prepared from these motifs, will significantly augment the currency of supramolecular-based technology. Combined with increasing efforts in cellular biology, high throughput screening using microfluidics and data-driven fields, it is predicted that the rational design of supramolecular biomaterials will lead to unprecedented therapeutic impact.

Injectable biomaterials are being used increasingly for the targeted delivery of therapeutic agents, such as medicine, genetic materials or proteins. They offer the possibility to treat a variety of conditions by providing patient-specific delivery while at the same time preventing uptake by the immune system. Clinical studies are currently being directed towards the development of natural-and synthetic derived injectable biomaterials, which offer a tailored degradation profile and controlled therapeutic agent release to treat osteoporosis, various forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

These are my views on the current status of biomaterials research and future research direction in terms of development, but I would encourage you to share your comments and opinions on the perspective shared here.

Nicholas Dunne

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