Throughout history, humankind has attempted to replace or fix damaged or diseased body parts to repair and regain functionality. The implant materials used have been selected according to availability and with an increasing level of suitability following the emerging understanding of the concept of biocompatibility. Now we may be seeing the dawn of a new paradigm and the next generation of biomaterials.

The first traces of attempts to repair and replace body parts date back several thousand years1. Long before any understanding of the concepts of biocompatibility or sterilization. The materials used as body part substitutes have varied throughout history. From sea shells in the Mayan period, to off-the-shelf materials such as polymers, metals and ceramics in the surgeon-hero era after World War II, to engineered materials designed for biocompatibility in modern times. Here we find silicones, hydrogels and hydroxyapatite. Now the next generation of biomaterials is under development. A generation of materials that are not only tolerated by the body, but which have functional properties. Materials that can be tuned and used to control the physiological environment and induce a response, such as, for example, tissue repair.

Supramolecular and biologically active biomaterials

Successfully integrated implants may effectively replace missing body parts by replicating the structure of the tissue no longer there. But even if the implant material is tolerated by the body, there can still be long term complications and the tissue functionality may be forever lost. A visionary scenario is where the native body function can be regained via an interaction with a bioactive coating, which induces a tissue regeneration and repair response. Work in this area is already ongoing. These biofunctional materials are designed as stimuli-responsive  supramolecular nanostructures. Typically, they are based on polymers, synthetic membranes, or other nanoscale assemblies, and functionalized with embedded biomolecules such as proteins, peptides or drugs. The material properties are responsive and predictable. Designed to sense and respond to the surrounding physiological environment, they offer a well-controlled surface. Not only will these supramolecular systems and materials be useful as implant coatings in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, but they can also be used as drug carriers for stimulus responsive drug delivery and in immunology, to mention a few examples.

Design and characterization of supramolecular biologically active materials

With the potential of application specific tailoring and tuning of material properties, these supramolecular nanostructures may indeed hold a promise to solve some of the current biomedical challenges, and they may conquer the position as the next generation of biomaterials.

To design these bioactive materials in a controlled fashion, however, there is a need to obtain an understanding of the buildup process of the nanoscale assemblies, and to characterize the material properties as a function of the ambient. With QSense technology the buildup of the materials can be monitored in real-time, and the dynamic response of the structure can be characterized as a function of salt concentration, temperature, pH and similar ambient parameters. The technology also enables the evaluation of functional effects of, for example, subsequent cell adhesion and spreading properties.


Biomaterials Science, 3rd Edition. An Introduction to Materials in Medicine

Editors: Buddy Ratner Allan Hoffman Frederick Schoen Jack Lemons , 2012