Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Materials Research

A team of researchers at North Carolina State University as reported in “Biomedical Materials” have made a breakthrough that can lead to new dialysis devices and a host of other revolutionary medical implants. The researchers have found that a nanoporuous ceramic membrane can be used to create new devices that can be implanted into the human body. This includes blood glucose sensors for diabetics and artificial hemo-dialysis membranes that can scrub impurities from the blood.

Researchers have been looking for ways to develop medical devices that can be implanted into patients for a variety of purposes but existing materials used today present significant problems. For example, devices need to be made of a material that prevents the body’s proteins from building up on sensors and therefore preventing the sensors from working properly. Also implanted devices must not provoke an inflammatory response from the body that could result in the body’s walling off the device or rejecting it completely.

Dr. Roger Narayan, Associate Professor in the Joint Biomedical Engineering Department at North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill, led the research and is hopeful that the nanoporous membranes could be used to create an interface between human tissues and medical devices that will be free of protein buildup.
In another effort, the National Science Foundation (NSF) through an Engineering Research Center grant in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Cincinnati, has recently funded a five year $18.5 million grant to develop implantable devices made from biodegradable metals.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University will lead the research. The research focuses on producing biodegradable self adapting devices and smart constructs for craniofacial and orthopedic reconstructive procedures and for similarly behaving cardiovascular devices such as stents and miniaturized sensing systems. The devices will be able to monitor and control the safety and effectiveness of biodegradable metals inside the body. In the future, this technology could lead to responsive biosensors to help doctors determine when and where diseases occur in the body.

The biodegradable devices and smart structures could reduce complications and spare patients with conditions ranging from cleft palate and bone fractures to coronary heart disease from undergoing multiple surgeries. For example, children born with a cleft palate are fitted with hard medal devices that must be removed and refitted over time. These new devices if crafted from magnesium alloys and other biodegradable metals would adapt to the body without refitting plus the magnesium alloys would dissolve after their work is done with no clinical side effects. Magnesium stents and other supports would restore cardiovascular function without having to remove the device and without exposing the patient to the potential complications of leaving the device inside the body.

Nearly 30 product development and industrial partners in the nano and biotechnology market will form a consortium with ERC to provide input on the direction of the research and work to help transfer the developed technology to patients.