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Balancing Biomaterial Strength and Degradation

Image courtesy of University of Birmingham Professor Andrew Dove web.jpg
Lead researcher, University of Birmingham Professor Andrew Dove
Researchers demonstrate the potential to “fine-tune” material properties for biological implants.

Researchers have discovered that succinic acid – a product found naturally within the body – could be used to control the degradation of a new polyester biomaterial created for use in soft tissue repair or flexible electronics. Such control might enable development of biomaterials that would mimic the elasticity and strength of biological tissues yet also biodegrade as needed for healing.

The team consisting of researchers from the University of Birmingham and Duke University developed the biomaterial and discovered that it could control the rate at which water penetrates the material (and therefore degradation speed) by adding varying amounts of succinic acid, they reported in a study published in Nature Communications.

Changes in material structure that increase degradation speed would typically cause a loss of strength, but this biomaterial has been designed with specific stereochemistry that mimics natural rubber and allows its mechanical properties to be finely controlled, the researchers shared in a news release. “This means any loss of strength can be compensated for by making suitable stereochemical adjustments. This is a significant advance that has so far not been achieved in any other degradable biomaterial,” according to the release. For instance, the team was able to control polyester biomaterial degradation gradually over a period of four months, with healthy tissues growing into and eventually replacing the implant. Tests in rats confirmed the material’s biocompatibility and safety, they reported.

University of Birmingham Professor Andrew Dove, lead researcher and co-author of the study, explained in the release: “Biological tissues are complex with varying elastic properties. Efforts to produce synthetic replacements that have the right physical characteristics and that can also degrade in the body have been ongoing for decades. 

“Part of the challenge is that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach doesn’t work,” he continued. “Our research opens up the possibility of engineering biological implants with properties that can be fine-tuned for each specific application.”

Added Professor Matthew Becker from Duke:  “The materials we have developed offer a real advance in the ongoing search for new biomaterials. The tunable nature of the material makes it suitable for a range of different applications, from replacement bone to vascular stents to wearable electronics. Additional work to prove the biocompatibility of the material and its use in more advanced demonstration is ongoing.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the European Research Foundation, and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. The technology is the subject of international patent applications filed by the University of Warwick and Akron University.

 

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