The use of nanotechnology in the manufacture of biomaterials, inert natural and synthetic substances used in medical devices which are implanted into the patient, is becoming an increasingly important part of medical science, and may well form the basis of new therapies.
Use of nanotech biomaterials in bone regeneration
Although bone is able to naturally regenerate it can only do so over small distances, hence severe fractures may not be able to heal naturally and thus may require bone grafting, which is a painful and invasive process. The use of non-biological materials such as ceramic and metal in bone generation is already well-documented, however these therapies may be improved by the use of nanomaterials less than one micrometre thick. This is because, unlike larger molecules, these are able to mimic the structure of natural bone material and thus invoke similar cellular responses, thus reducing the time taken for the bone to heal.
Nanotech biomaterials in nerve tissue regeneration
Damage to the central nervous system (CNS) can have devastating and in many cases untreatable consequences such as paralysis. Similar to the case of bone regeneration described above, nerve cells can only grow over very short distances, hence any major severing of the spinal cord is likely to go untreated at present. However a potential therapy is emerging whereby a fibrous scaffold made from nano-sized biomaterials is used as a frame for natural nerve cell regeneration. The unique structure of nerve cells means that growth has to be directional for the cell to work and for the natural regeneration process to occur, hence techniques such as electrospinning could be an important way of ensuring the requisite cell alignment.
Use of polymer brushes to prevent infection
Implants such as pacemakers are used widely in modern medicine, however many such devices need to be regularly replaced in order to prevent infection occurring through the breakup of naturally-forming biofilms, whereby microorganisms attach to the device and proliferate. If untreated such infections can lead to fatal sepsis, plus treatment often requires costly and dangerous surgical intervention. A potential solution to this problem is the use of nano-sized polymer brushes on the medical device. These prevent harmful microorganisms from settling on the surface and proliferating to harmful levels.