Test method provides biocompatibility 'barometer'

A new method for quantitatively measuring the compatibility of materials with living tissues has been developed by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Described in a Dec. 11 presentation at the Tissue Engineering Society International's conference in Orlando, Fla., the technique should provide a more sensitive and reliable means to evaluate the biocompatibility of new materials for a wide range of applications from contact lenses to dental coatings to bone implants.

A paper outlining the new method has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research.

The new method, which represents a novel application of existing bench-top scientific instruments, is a two-step process. The first step involves using a device called a polymerase chain reaction instrument to measure the levels of an organism's cytokines when exposed to a given material. Cytokines are signaling molecules released by white blood cells to protect the body from foreign materials. Higher levels of cytokine production generally indicate non-biocompatible materials have caused inflammation. The second step involves testing exposed cells for a specific protein in the cell membrane, the presence of which indicates cells are dying. This is a complementary test for more serious responses to materials because dying cells are often not capable of producing cytokines. The NIST tests were conducted on cultured mouse cells, which produce similar responses as whole tissues.

NIST post-doctoral researcher LeeAnn Bailey called the new method a "barometer" of biocompatibility.

Whereas current means to test biocompatibility produce a yes/no result that a material is minimally biocompatible or not, the new analysis can tell which materials are more biocompatible than others. Industry and researchers should be able to use this method to produce new materials for dentistry and other medical applications that are even more well

Contact: Scott Nance
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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