Smart Materials for Healthcare

The next generation of medical treatments for disease will rely heavily on the development of new nanostructured biomaterials and smart medical devices that can sense, interact with, respond to and control their environment. These advances will result from a combination of new biomaterials, nano-based design and manufacturing, and increased understanding and control of the chemistry, physics and biology present at the device-tissue interface. Advances in biomaterial technology will also address many of the medical challenges associated with devices currently in use, such as compatibility with host tissues, corrosion, medical-device associated infection, non-specific organ toxicity, among others. Understanding the performance of these biomaterials and devices in the body is essential for maintaining safety and efficacy of medical devices and for discovering new knowledge about material-body interactions.

While “biomaterials” generally refers to materials that are used to repair, replace or augment the tissues, structures and systems of the human body, “smart” biomaterials are able to sense their environment and change their characteristics e.g. shape, solubility, orientation or phase to produce a medically desirable result. Often these smart biomaterials are designed to feature nanometer-scale structure and have properties that allow them to self-heal or to respond to changes in their environment, including temperature, pH, electrical current and field, among others. Examples include triggered release of therapeutic agents in response to specific stimuli (such as the altered pH and physiological environment of tumor or inflammatory tissue) and selective prevention of microbial adhesion to kill microbes while promoting growth of host cells. Furthermore, smart materials can be designed to deliver therapeutics only to a designated site within the body. Smart scaffolds are envisioned for biomimetic tissue engineering of organs and tissues and these will utilize new materials capable of recapitulation of development, homeostasis, or healing. Smart materials for healthcare may also be used to improve the performance of medical devices by promoting a desired biological response, such as healing and tissue growth.

This focus area builds upon the success of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute (SBI), which has launched successful research programs in shape memory polymers for device applications, polymer coatings and drug delivery systems, metallic biomaterials and their in-vivo performance, surfaces of biomaterials, bone cements, bacterial-biomaterials interactions, and tissue engineering and mechano-biology. Under this Plan, these areas would be strengthened and additional expertise would be added, with special emphasis on clinical testing to determine the response of organisms to implants; and surface studies focused on the interface of materials and the body with the goal of improving the performance of medical implants.

Research Areas