Biomaterials, materials that can be introduced into the body, have been around for thousands of years. See the biomaterial timeline to get a sense of the history.
- 9500-1000 B.C.—Sutures and stitches made from animal intestine fiber date back to the Neolithic times in Europe.
- 500 B.C.—Gold used in dentistry by Roman, Chinese and Aztec civilisations.
- 600 A.D.—Mayans used blue nacre shell to replace lost teeth.
- 1829—Henry Levert, Alabaman doctor tests the biocompatibility of different metals in dogs, finding that platinum is better tolerated than gold, silver or lead.
- 1926—Invention of stainless steel allowed metals to be used regularly in the body for a reasonable cost.
- 1930s—Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) synthesised, from which ‘silicone’ implants were later made.
- Late 1940s—Plastics become readily available after WWII. Their major advantages: they are easy to shape, light and inert.
- 1949—Sir Harold Ridley, uses poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) plastic to create intraocular lenses to treat cataracts.
- 1952—Blood vessel replacement using parachute material left over from WWII.
- 1960s—Charnley’s hip arthroplasty
- 1975—Society for Biomaterials formed, birth of a science.
- 1960s-1980s—Knee replacements, breast implants, stents, heart valve replacements. Materials: Teflon, hydrogels and bioglass.
In research labs, scientists are currently developing advanced biomaterials, which can do more than just one job. For example, stents which provide structural support to blood vessels, yet also slowly release an anti-inflammatory drug. The stent may also be designed to degrade naturally in the bloodstream when its purpose has been served (no second surgery required to remove it).
Biomaterials employed in ‘regenerative medicine’ are designed to encourage the regrowth of damaged tissue, such as nerve cells across a defect in the spinal cord, where fibrosis or scarring would otherwise occur.
- Do you know of anyone who has had a 3D printed implant? If so what was their experience?
© University of Wollongong, 3D Bioprinting: Printing parts for bodies, 2014, Wallace, G.G., Cornock, R.C., O’Connell, C.D., Beirne, S., Dodds, S., Gilbert, F.