Replacement and Improvement in the Human Body 

From biomaterials to 3D technology

Modern medicine cannot exist without the use of biomaterials and nanotechnology. Well-known examples are implants such as prostheses and artificial heart valves, while there are exciting innovations in the works for intelligent implants that offer new or renewed functionality. After damage from cancer, trauma or age, functional recovery can be stimulated through the use of biomaterials. The use of new materials and specific, custom-made implants not only yields substantially shorter operation times, it also results in increased efficiency and reduced morbidity. In conjunction with the use of antibacterial coatings, new materials offer reduced risk of infection.

Various supramolecular polymers (derived from natural materials) are being finetuned for specific applications, by using expertise in Groningen in both experimental and theoretical-numerical analysis. Examples include nature-inspired water-resistant adhesives with potential applications in surgical procedures, nanogels for coatings and hydrogels that serve as model systems for, for instance, the extracellular matrix to be used in tissue engineering. Moreover, work is being done on the reconstruction of structures and organs using 3D technology. Coatings that are developed for these constructs serve to improve integration into tissue and to prevent and treat infections resulting from the use of foreign-body materials. Finally, organoid models are being developed both in vivo and in vitro for the isolation and characterisation of stem cells. This holds the promise of being able to repair cells for specific organs, such as salivary glands.

Leading examples:

Nanogel coating for medical materials

Coatings have long been used on implants in order to improve acceptance by the body or for imaging purposes. A substantial challenge for the development of these coatings is that they must be precisely adjusted to the myriad implant materials that are being used clinically.

Nanogels offer highly interesting possibilities for accelerating the innovation process. Nanogels have been developed for better antibacterial activation while being sensitive to fluorescence and MRI. These nanogel coatings are successfully applied on various materials including polymers, rubbers and titanium. Beside proof of the intended performance, additional characteristics such as the ability to be sterilised and the product lifetime have to be demonstrated.

3D Technology

The 3D lab MKA/UMCG has access to techniques, software and clinical expertise to virtually schedule a surgical procedure and make patient specific implants. Using 3D visualisation, these can be used in the operating theatre during the procedure in order to work with extreme precision. Furthermore, patient-specific tools and implants are being developed for first-in-human prototypes and created using 3D printers.

The power of the lab is that it combines the core scientific knowledge of various partners from the RUG with expertise from surgical disciplines at UMCG. The short lines of communication with the business community regarding the development and application of various printing technologies contribute to rapid implementation in clinical practice.