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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 1, 2014
AGH University of Science and Technology
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Biomaterials: A Revolution in Medicine
August 1, 2014   
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The AGH University of Science and Technology was the first university in Poland to launch a department dealing with biomaterials – a field of research that could revolutionize medicine and turn science fiction into science fact.

n The AGH UST Department of biomaterials, headed by Professor Jan Chłopek, was set up in 2003 as part of the Faculty of Materials Science and Ceramics. The department focuses on materials that can interact with living tissue. These include ceramics, metals, polymers and composites. The department’s researchers evaluate the mechanical, physical, chemical and biological properties of these materials.

Regenerative medicine, which deals with the process of replacing, engineering and regenerating human cells, tissues and organs in order to restore or establish normal function, is at the centre of many projects carried out by the department’s research team. regenerative medicine is a relatively young, interdisciplinary field that aims to treat patients using cells grown on specially prepared substrates.

The time is coming for a hi-tech revolution in medical treatment, say the AGH UST researchers. They add that in the near future what is now the stuff of science-fiction literature will become reality. Biomaterials will force the body to repair its own tissue.

“Our research focuses on the regeneration of bone, cartilage and, although this is only the beginning, nerve tissue,” says Professor Chłopek.

This regeneration process is not simple. To restore damaged tissue (after an injury or cancer, for example) special scaffolds need to be built inside the body and it’s necessary to wait until cells grow back there. Another option is to use cell cultured in vitro in these scaffolds. These scaffolds must be friendly to the growth of the cells, without disturbing any processes taking place in the body in any way.

“There is no single, universal material from which it is possible to get material to build a scaffold,” says Professor Chłopek. “That’s why we focus on composites.”

Composites are materials created by combining several different materials. The AGH UST researchers specifically work with multi-phase and multifunctional resorbable polymers. Such polymers must play a specific function at each stage of treatment. One example is implants used to bind bones together. Previously screws and pieces of metal were used in such procedures. After some time, the surgeon had to remove these during another operation. The new implants from resorbable materials do not require another operation. Introduced into bone tissue, the composite will decompose into simple compounds with time, and subsequently into carbon dioxide and water. All this will finally be excreted from the body.

The researchers have managed to personalize their composite, smart implants by tailoring them to the needs of individual patients – after measuring bone density, for example.

These new-generation implants are good news for both patients and doctors. Experiments on animals are already under way and preliminary clinical trials are also being conducted. If these are successful and after the necessary paperwork is completed, the researchers will start looking for a company to produce such implants on an industrial scale. They plan to work with Polish companies – those that previously produced screws, blades and nails for trauma surgery.

Until now biomaterials were usually defined as those that did not harm the human body and were not rejected by it. Now research is being carried out into bionanomaterials – materials at the nanometer scale (one nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter). This means that another revolution in medicine is around the corner. But first it is necessary to check if nanoparticles implanted into patients will be safe for them in the future – for example, that they do not penetrate into blood vessels and clog them.

Teresa Bętkowska
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