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Thermoplastic Biomaterial ‘Fine-Tuned’ for Medical Applications

U.K. and U.S. university research team succeed in ‘fine-tuning a type of polyester biomaterial to enable the rate of degradation in the body.
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Researchers from U.K.’s University of Birmingham and U.S.’s Duke University have succeeded in ‘fine tuning’ a new thermoplastic biomaterial to enable both the rate at which it degrades in the body and its mechanical properties to be controlled independently. A type of polyester, the material has been designed for use in soft tissue repair or flexible bioelectronics.

Materials that successfully replicate the necessary elasticity and strength of biological tissues but which also biodegrade over an appropriate timescale are extremely difficult to engineer. This is because the chemistry used to produce a material’s mechanical properties will also typically govern the rate at which it degrades.

UK' Birmingham Uni. and Duke Uni. researchers fine-tune biomaterial for medical applications

This research team has advanced the technology by showing how the addition of succinic acid – a product found naturally within the body--can be used to control the degradation rate.

In a new study, published in Nature Communications, researchers showed how the polyester biomaterial degrades gradually over a period of four months, with healthy tissues growing into and eventually replacing the implant. Tests in rats were also carried out to confirm the material’s biocompatibility and safety. By varying the amounts of succinic acid the team could control the rate at which water penetrates the material and hence the degradation speed. Usually, the structural changes that increase degradation speed would cause a loss of strength, but this material has been designed with specific stereochemistry that mimics natural rubber and allow its mechanical properties to be finely controlled. This means any loss of strength can be compensated for by making suitable stereochemical adjustments. This is a significant advance that has so far not been achieved in any other degradable biomaterial.

Co-author of the study University of Birmingham  professor Andrew Dove explains: “Biological tissues are complex with varying elastic properties. Efforts to produce synthetic replacements that have the right physical characteristics and that can also degrade in the body have been ongoing for decades. Part of the challenge is that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach doesn’t work. Our research opens up the possibility of engineering biological implants with properties that can be fine-tuned for each specific application.”

Duke Uni. and UK's Birmingham Uni. researchers fine-tune polyester biomaterial for medical applications

Duke University professor Matthew Becker, who holds dual appointments in chemistry and mechanical engineering and materials science, notes that the biomaterials and regenerative medicine communities have been severely limited to a few materials which lack the diversity of properties reported in this study. “The materials we have developed offer a real advance in the ongoing search for new biomaterials. The tunable nature of the material makes it suitable for a range of different applications, from replacement bone to vascular stents to wearable electronics. Additional work to prove the biocompatibility of the material and its use in more advanced demonstration is ongoing.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the European Research Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

Meanwhile, the technology is the subject of international patent applications filed by the University of Warwick and Akron University.

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