Materials that speak body language
If you ever had a cavity filled or were unfortunate enough to need a hip replaced, then you are one of many people who coexist with an artificial biomaterial. How do scientists choose a material for an implant? There are many candidates, but the material's surface deserves special attention: minutes after a medical procedure ends, serum proteins begin to adsorb at the biomaterial's surface, and cells adhere and spread. These early interfacial events are critically important in determining if our bodies ultimately accept or reject an implant.
Dr. Marta Cerruti, Canada Research Chair in Biosynthetic Interfaces, is developing biodegradable scaffolds with a surface designed to promote a specific response from the cells and the fluids in contact with it—in other words, materials that speak the same language as the human body.
Her research focuses on both hard and soft tissue regeneration. For example, she studies molecular cues that affect the precipitation of hydroxyapatite, the mineral phase in bones and teeth. Biomaterials that join to these hard tissues need to promote the formation of this mineral, while those that replace cartilage or blood vessels need to inhibit it.
Implants made with materials modified with these cues will help stimulating the body's own healing potential, thus ensuring a successful outcome.
Prosthetics for soft and hard tissue repair have improved a lot thanks to the new materials and techniques introduced in the last 50 years; Cerruti's research on interfaces between materials and cells and body fluids will introduce a new paradigm that will improve these implants even more.