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Next-generation biomaterials to help body heal itself

The next generation of biomaterials will help the body heal itself by prompting cells to repair their own tissues, scientists report today.

Writing in a review in the journal Science, Professors Larry Hench and Julia Polak of Imperial College, London, highlight the potential of 'third generation' biomaterials that activate specific cells and genes of the individual they are implanted into.

Pioneering work by the two authors recently led to the discovery of a family of bone formation genes that can be regulated by bioactive materials. This discovery is already being used to create a new generation of biomaterials for regeneration and repair of tissue.

The authors also signal a new era in biomaterials, calling for research emphasis to shift from replacement to regeneration of tissues.

Professor Hench, discoverer of Bioglass (R) and author of a 1980 Science review of the field, said:

"The advantage of the new approach is that the body's own genes control the tissue repair process. The result is equivalent to natural tissues in that the new structure is living and adaptable to the physiological environment. It is the scientific basis for us to design a new generation of gene-activating biomaterials tailored for specific patients and disease states."

In the last two years a group at Imperial College Tissue Engineering Centre headed by Professor Polak has analysed how human cells behave when they are attached to scaffolds of a specific bioactive material.

They demonstrated that key genes of bone cells involved in bone formation are activated when a bioactive material designed and configured for the purpose of bone formation is brought together with it. At the same time other genes, normally activated when fat or other tissues are formed, were down regulated.

"In the future we may only need to implant the carefully calculated chemical ingredients of the biomaterial, rather than a 'finished' biomaterial itsel
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Contact: Tom Miller
t.miller@ic.ac.uk
44-20-7594-6704
Imperial College London
7-Feb-2002


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