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Design & Nature Reimagined: Biomaterials (part 1 of 3)

**Content warning:**​
Today's newsletter has medical device imagery and discusses surgery.

Today we're going to learn about biomaterials. National Institutes of Health say biomaterials "may be natural or synthetic and are used in medical applications to support, enhance, or replace damaged tissue or a biological function."

Some natural biomaterials examples are cellulose, collagen, and gelatine. Hernia mesh, pacemakers, and skin grafts are all examples of synthetic biomaterials.

And now we can add hyperelastic bone to the list.

Hyperelastic bone

Imagine you've had the unfortunate experience of breaking your jaw. Getting the jaw bone properly aligned is extremely important to ensure the patient has no pain and that their teeth correctly match up and fit together.

Today, doctors have to put in metal plates and then wire your mouth shut to allow time for your jaw to heal. This is a long and painful process that isn't at all pleasant for the patient.

But now scientists are working on hyperelastic bone that's 3D printed. These bones are made from hydroxyapatite, which is a form of calcium that exists in the bone and is already used in certain reconstruction surgeries. But in this case, the substance can be 3D printed into a customized bone and then placed into the patient. Because this is a form of calcium the body already recognizes, bone is regenerated more quickly, and healing time is reduced.

This means that future bone implants wouldn't have to be harvested from the patient and would be custom made for the patient to ensure better fit and compatibility. Additionally, these 3D printed bones don't need special care or refrigeration, so could theoretically be pre-printed and shipped to their destination.

While this technology is new, it was recently implanted for the first time in multiple patients in November of 2023.

These biomaterials represent a fascinating and promising new collaboration between nature, tech, and design, where scientists are able to isolate and manipulate minerals and materials to create custom designed and stable devices for patients.

A 3D printed portion of spinal column against a black background


Photo by James Vincent and seen in The Verge

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