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Biomaterials — How They Can Help Create New and Better Treatments

What Is Tissue Engineering?

At its most basic level, tissue engineering combines cells with scaffolding materials to grow new tissue constructs.

But, understanding and managing the complex relationship between the cells and scaffolds presents the great challenge for tissue engineers.

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McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
Bridgeside Point II 
450 Technology Drive
Suite 300
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Read information on campus shuttles.

Phone: 412-624-5500
Fax: 412-624-5363

Bioscaffolds and Biomimetics

For biomaterial scaffolds, McGowan Institute researchers are:

  • Working to use natural and synthetic biodegradable materials that they can alter to include biological activity. This includes growth factors and structural adhesive proteins.
  • Studying novel ways to process materials into 3D structures and to populate these structures with surface-bound biologic signaling molecules.

Read more about biomaterial research at the McGowan Institute.

We've made huge advances in biologic scaffolds for soft tissue repair. Over 8 million patients have received treatment with bioscaffolds.

A team led by Stephan F. Badylak, DVM, PhD, MD, is looking for ways to adapt the bioscaffold concept to whole organ engineering.

Learn more about Dr. Badylak's whole organ engineering research.

Biomimetic methods are a common theme in the lab of Steven Little, PhD. The act of mimicking a biologic interaction or property using a synthetic material is a valid way to enhance function.

Dr. Little's team is exploring:

  • Techniques to make materials that act like biological matrices.
  • Delivery methods that mimic the way the body's cells and tissues deliver signals for wound healing and immune responses.

As their knowledge of biologic interactions increases, they will be better able to mimic them to create new treatments.

See all regenerative medicine research projects in Dr. Little's Lab.

Alloys That Adapt and Dissolve

A group of researchers are creating new alloys and manufacturing processes that suit clinical demands.

The team includes researchers from the:

  • McGowan Institute
  • University of Cincinnati
  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
  • Hannover Medical School

The group seeks to design devices that can adapt to changes in a person’s body and dissolve once they've healed.

These devices can help:

  • Reduce potential complications of major orthopaedic, craniofacial, and cardiovascular procedures.
  • Decrease the need for follow-up treatments.
  • Spare millions of patients worldwide added pain and medical bills.

So far, the group has made include:

  • Novel screws and plates for facial reconstruction.
  • A stent for use in kidney dialysis.
  • A nerve guide.
  • A ring that helps pull together and heal ruptured ligaments.
  • A tracheal stent implant for children born with underdeveloped tracheas prone to collapse. The stent implant dissolves, preventing the need for a second procedure on young patients.

Learn more about making medical devices with dissolving metal.

Resorbable metals such as magnesium (Mg) and its alloys have many benefits over other materials used in orthopaedic treatments.

Mg alloy implants:

  • Have a fracture toughness greater than many ceramic materials, and a yield strength and stiffness more like cortical bone.
  • Degrade naturally in vivo, reducing risk of long-term complications and doing away with the need for removal surgeries. When properly controlled, this degradation causes little inflammation.
  • May benefit the body as Mg is a natural component of bone and a co-factor for hundreds of enzyme processes.

Researchers in the lab of Charles Sfier, DDS, PhD, are exploring Mg alloys as bone fixation devices for orthopaedic and craniofacial procedures. They're designing and testing Mg-based fixation devices to better understand their degradation and the biological after-effects.

Prashant Kumta, PhD, and his research team work toward finding a new class of multifunctional biocompatible materials and devices able to:

  • Foster cell growth between organic and inorganic materials.
  • Sense biochemical and physical phenomena, such as wear at the synthetic-biological interface.