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Biomaterials and Applications

(Harvard University - Joyce Yang)

- Overview

Biomaterials are materials designed to interact with biological systems for medical purposes. They can be natural or synthetic and are commonly used to treat, enhance or replace damaged tissue or biological function. Examples of biological materials include:

Contact lenses, pacemakers, heart valves, orthopedic devices, breast implants, skin grafts, cochlear implants, joint replacements.

Biomaterials can be used alone, in combination, modified or engineered into devices. They can be found in many medical devices, such as artificial heart valves and joints. The first use of biomaterials dates back to ancient times, when the ancient Egyptians used sutures made from animal tendons.

Biomaterials can be used for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes. For example, scientists are studying biological materials:

  • manipulate immune cells
  • Delivering Drugs in New Ways
  • Create complex tissue microstructures 


- Common Types of Biomaterials

Biomaterials are substances that can interact with biological systems for medical purposes. Biomaterials can be derived from nature or synthesized in the laboratory using various chemical methods.

These materials are mainly used or suitable for applications in the medical industry. These materials contain whole or parts of living structures or biomedical devices that direct, augment or replace the body's natural functions. Biomaterials are also used routinely in applications such as dentistry, surgery and drug delivery.

Biomaterials are generally grouped into three classes: metals, ceramics, and polymers. Some common types of biomaterials include: 

  • Chitosan: A natural polymer that is derived from chitin and is antimicrobial, biocompatible, and biodegradable.
  • Collagen: A structural protein that is found in most animal tissues. It provides physical support to cells and tissues.
  • Metals: Used to make pacemaker wires, vascular stents, and hip and knee implants. Metals are often coated with bioceramics or thin polymer films.
  • Alginate: A natural polysaccharide that is derived from brown algae.
  • Biosensors: Used to detect and monitor biomarkers. They are being used clinically for the early detection of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers.

Biomaterials are used in regenerative medicine, which aims to restore, repair, or replace damaged or diseased cells, organs, and tissues.


[The Winter in Paris, France]

- Modern Biomaterials in Medicine

Biomaterials play an integral role in medicine today - restoring function and facilitating the recovery of people after injury or illness. Biomaterials, which can be natural or synthetic, are used in medical applications to support, enhance or replace damaged tissue or biological function. 

The first use of biomaterials dates back to ancient times, when the ancient Egyptians used sutures made from animal tendons. 

The field of modern biomaterials combines medicine, biology, physics and chemistry, with the latest influences in tissue engineering and materials science. The field has grown significantly over the past decade due to discoveries in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and more. 

Metals, ceramics, plastics, glass, and even living cells and tissues can be used to create biomaterials. They can be redesigned into molded or machined parts, coatings, fibers, films, foams and fabrics for use in biomedical products and devices. 

These may include heart valves, hip replacements, dental implants or contact lenses. They are usually biodegradable, and some are bioabsorbable, which means they are gradually eliminated from the body after performing their functions.


- Biomaterials Used in Current Medical Practice

Physicians, researchers and bioengineers use biomaterials for a wide range of applications, including: 

  • Medical implants, including heart valves, stents, and grafts; artificial joints, ligaments, and tendons; hearing loss implants; dental implants; and devices that stimulate nerves.
  • Methods of promoting healing of human tissue, including sutures, clips and staples, and dissolvable dressings for wound closure.
  • Human tissues are regenerated using a combination of biomaterial supports or scaffolds, cells, and bioactive molecules. Examples include bone-regenerating hydrogels and lab-grown human bladders.
  • Molecular probes and nanoparticles break through biological barriers to facilitate cancer imaging and treatment at the molecular level.
  • Biosensors detect the presence and amount of specific substances and transmit this data. Examples include blood sugar monitoring devices and brain activity sensors.
  • Drug delivery systems that carry and/or administer drugs to disease targets. Examples include drug-coated vascular stents and implantable chemotherapy chips for cancer patients.


[More to come ...]


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