What Are Biomaterials?

A biomedical worker in a lab

Biomedical engineers are innovators who are driving the future of health care. The need for safer, more precise and more versatile medical technology is a constant one, and biomedical engineers are on the forefront of fulfilling that need. If you decide to major in biomedical engineering, you will take an intensive course on biomaterials. These are materials designed to safely come into contact with living tissue. In some cases, biomaterials can replace living tissue.

Requirements for Biomaterials

A person’s immune system works by identifying foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria and attacking them. This is the reason why organ transplant recipients must, for the rest of their lives, take special medications to suppress the immune system response. However, the body does not automatically reject and attack all materials, which is why orthopedic surgeons can surgically implant medical-grade plates and screws, and dentists can place intraoral stitches. In order to be a viable biomaterial, the item in question must be biocompatible with the human body. A biomaterial with good biocompatibility is one that does not trigger a robust immune response, has resistance to protein accumulation and does not encourage infection.

Types of Biomaterials

Biomaterials can be natural or synthetic. They can be made from all sorts of ingredients, including the following:

  • Metals
  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Living cells and tissues
  • Polymers

Biomaterials may be designed to interact with living tissue temporarily, like sutures, or on a long-term basis, like pacemakers. Some biomaterials are intended primarily for monitoring and evaluation purposes. Biosensors can identify and measure specific substances and transmit that information to a doctor. These include brain activity sensors and blood glucose monitors. Other types of biomaterials include:

  • Medical implants (stents, grafts, heart valves, artificial joints and dental implants)
  • Drug-delivery systems (implantable chemotherapy wafers and drug-coated stents)
  • Healing supports (staples, dissolvable dressings, sutures and clips)
  • Regenerated biomaterials (bone regenerating hydrogel and lab-grown human organs)

The Future of Biomaterials

Looking ahead to the future, biomedical engineers are continuing to research new, better biomaterials designed to give hope to patients. These scientists often find inspiration in surprising places, like brown algae. Alginate can be derived from brown algae, and in the future, it might be used as a lung sealant or patch. Alginate lung patches could one day help heal lungs damaged by injury, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia or surgery. Other biomedical engineers are researching the following:

  • Diabetic ulcers: A combination of pH sensors, thermo-responsive drug carriers and an onboard controller comprise a new, smart dressing for chronic diabetic ulcers that resist traditional healing.
  • Burn injuries: Current dressings for burn patients adhere to the wound surface, causing acute pain, delayed healing and tissue damage when removed. A new hydrogel dressing is being designed to automatically dissolve in a controllable manner.
  • Colon repair: Many patients suffer from wound site leakage after colon resection surgery. Biomedical engineers are studying ways of using photo thermal nan composites. When a laser is applied, the biomaterial will fuse together the separated tissues.

Does a career on the cutting-edge of biomedical engineering excite you? Get started on your academic journey today by using the Request More Information button on this page. Grand Canyon University is a dynamic, faith-based school that offers an academically rigorous Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering degree program.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.