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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Materials & technologies projects > Biomaterials for health, wealth and employment
Graphic element Biomaterials for health, wealth and employment

Repairing damaged bone or skin

Many traditional biomaterials, such as the metals and ceramics used in dental and bone implants, were originally developed for non-biological applications - for example, in the aeronautics, mechanical engineering, and electronics industries. Although the implants made with these materials do improve the quality of life for many people, they do not behave like natural tissue.

Bone, for instance, is both stiff and elastic; it degrades and rebuilds itself, constantly adapting to changes. Metals and ceramics lack these properties. Yet each year worldwide, surgeons perform about 750,000 primary hip operations and 500,000 primary knee operations. In over 14% of these cases, a second operation proves necessary, because the implant eventually begins to irritate or damage the surrounding tissue leading to a loss of fixation. The success rate of such surgery is much lower than that of primary implantation.

Bone grafting is another common strategy. The graft must either come from the patient - this is uncomfortable because it requires a second operation site, can lead to long term pain in the harvested area, and the amount of bone that can be taken is limited. Or the graft can come from a bone bank, entailing a risk of graft rejection and disease transmission. For large defects in load-carrying bones, there exists no satisfactory repair solution.

Skin, like bone, has a complex structure and is dynamic and self-renewing. Severe damage to the skin is not only painful and disfiguring, it can actually be maiming or life-threatening. In Europe each year, some 60,000 diabetics undergo amputation because of foot ulcers; over 20,000 people experience serious burns; over 1% of the population suffers from leg ulcers that refuse to heal. New biomaterials are needed to help these patients.

An innovative strategy in these areas is to develop 'tissue-engineered' biomaterials that integrate into and mimic the natural tissue and stimulate its growth and repair. Two promising EC-funded projects in this field are IsoBone and scaffolds for dermo-epidermal skin grafts.

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What are biomaterials?
Biomaterials in public health
Biomaterials and the European economy
Meet Materialise: an SME success story
Repairing damaged bone or skin
Bio-hybrid organs
Major EU-funded biomaterials projects

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