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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

Major EU-funded biomaterials projects

Examples of EU-funded projects include:

A tissue-engineered living bone equivalent

IsoBone aims to develop living-tissue-engineered bone-substitute materials that can replace load-bearing and non-load-bearing bone. The idea is to produce a hybrid implant consisting of a biocompatible, biodegradable polymer scaffold seeded with the patient's own bone cells. Once inside the body, the implant should favour new bone growth and integrate into the site of the lesion, as the scaffold gradually degrades.

Partners are two companies and three universities/research centres. They have developed promising polymers for scaffold building. They have optimised animal bone-cell cultures and found conditions that favour cell attachment and proliferation (they have started to do the same with human cells). They have proved in animal experiments that seeded porous polymer scaffolds do promote bone tissue formation. The next step will be to implant bone-marrow cells from large animals into clinically relevant bone defects.

While the ultimate product may be somewhat more expensive than existing systems, a shorter hospital stay, a high biocompatibility and a high long-term success rate will make it competitive.

Development of a biodegradable scaffold for dermo-epidermal skin grafts

The dermo-epidermal skin grafts project set out to treat problematic skin wounds by implanting a biodegradable scaffold at the wound site seeded with the patient's own skin cells. The idea was to combine dermal cells (cells of the lower skin layer) and epidermal cells (cells of the upper skin layer) in a scaffold made of a derivative of a molecule naturally present in the skin. The cells form new skin that integrates into the surrounding tissue as the scaffold is biodegraded.

The partners are two companies and four universities/research centres. They have produced and patented two scaffolds, a membrane for reconstructing the upper skin layer and a fibrous structure for rebuilding the lower layer. Techniques taken from the textile industry are used to make this dermal scaffold. Both systems are currently sold in Italy.

Cells derived from a skin biopsy of about 1 cm² are expanded in culture, then seeded onto the scaffolds. Skin reconstruction is in two steps - first the dermis, then the epidermis. Over 1,000 patients have received this treatment in clinical trials, and there have been outstanding results: saved limbs, burns that heal with less scarring than usual. The next aim is to produce a scaffold enabling delivery of both dermal and epidermal cells in a single step.

In a field traditionally dominated by the US, these European partners have created a product superior to existing ones. The only comparable systems use donor cells rather than the patient's. The project partners have shown that skin cells from donors cannot survive and integrate, they can only stimulate healing by providing growth factors.
Current plans to duplicate in other countries the centre that produces the scaffolds may lead to the creation of up to 250 jobs.

Development and testing of membranes for biohybrid systems

The ultimate aim of the membranes for biohybrid systems project is to make bio-hybrid organs in which living kidney or liver cells, immobilised on membranes, perform their normal physiological functions. A first step is to produce the membranes that make such organs possible. The partners are a large company, an SME and four universities/ research centres.

For support or replacement of kidneys, there is to date no biohybrid organ. There have been encouraging attempts by other researchers to make a biohybrid liver, but the cells used in these systems die off quickly. This is why the present project concentrates on developing membranes that help keep the cells alive, attached, and functional. This means paying special attention to the membrane surface and its interactions with cells and blood constituents. One idea is to bind to the membranes molecules that favour cell viability and function, or prevent binding of unwanted proteins (this is called 'functionalising' the membranes).

The partners have patented a hollow-fibre design for immobilising kidney cells. They are filing patents for two particularly promising membranes. One of these is blood-compatible on one side and tissue-compatible on the other (an indispensable feature, since in a biohybrid organ, the cells immobilised on one side must be in contact with the patient's blood, on the other). The second can be rapidly functionalised for use in different environments. A new challenge is to obtain organ cells in sufficient number. The partners expect it to take about five more years to produce a biohybrid liver.

Laser photopolymerisation models based on medical imaging: a development improving the accuracy of surgery.

The aim of the now completed Phidias project was to produce highly accurate models enabling surgeons to visualise, prepare and practice complex surgery. The idea was to produce the models by stereolithography, a rapid prototyping technique in which a computer-controlled laser 'prints' successive slices of the model in a photopolymer liquid that hardens where the laser light hits.

The partners were an SME, two large companies, and a university. They developed a fully integrated process chain - creating some steps and improving others. They enhanced the accuracy of spiral computerised tomography (a medical imaging technique) and the quality of image processing, created a software link between the computerised tomography data and the printer, increased printing speed, and developed a non-toxic photopolymer that can be selectively coloured to highlight lesions.

Resulting models cannot be implanted, but they can function as templates before surgery to make implants that will fit exactly into place. Surgeons also use the models to plan and rehearse complex surgery and to visualise the results. When several surgical teams must work together, the models can help them co-ordinate their interventions.

In validation trials performed by 25 surgeons on 48 patients, the models were judged useful to essential in 94% of cases. They were found to influence important factors such as surgical team composition, the patient's position for surgery, the operation sequence, and even the decision to operate or not. They may improve the survival rate of patients operated for jaw tumours because, with accurate models of the lesion and surrounding tissue, surgeons dare remove more tissue.

Phidias has spawned a new project, PISA (Personalised Implants and Surgical Aids), which has already yielded a new product: drilling guides for dental surgery that fit exactly on the jaw.

prev. Previous    
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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