European research has investigated ways of transforming complex, organised natural products such as wood to make materials suitable for rebuilding the human skeletal system.
The metamorphosis of wood to a ceramic that is identical to the mineral part of bone tissue hydroxyapatite takes place at the molecular or nano-level. The EU-funded “New bio-ceramisation processes applied to vegetable hierarchical structures” (TEM-PLANT) project aims to develop and apply novel processes to hierarchical materials like wood to produce smart ceramics that behave like bone and ligaments.
TEM-PLANT developed several types of materials with huge practical potential. These included bone scaffolding to help bone regrowth with properties very like the real thing. There is a strong possibility that the new scaffolding concept could make an appearance in the clinic in the next 5 to 10 years.
Success has also been achieved for that all-important soft skeletal tissue. The project team have shown in vivo that natural polymers can be processed to produce regenerative scaffolds for both ligaments and tendons.
At the molecular level, TEM-PLANT has investigated the very nuts and bolts of transforming hierarchically structured materials like wood. Chemo-physical phenomena have been identified behind the self-assembling and mineralisation processes required to achieve the modification of raw materials.
For the future, these new processes have a much wider application than simply replacing human skeletal parts. Materials that possess high values for both tensile and compressive strength as well as toughness like bone are very rare. Furthermore, using the innovative techniques developed by TEM-PLANT, new materials that maintain their properties at high temperature and under mechanical stress can be produced.
TEM-PLANT has devised processes that will improve bone and ligament substitution. Wider uses of biomorphic materials include catalytic converters, space vehicles and aircraft engine parts. An added bonus is that the concepts meet up-to-date environmental and recycling requirements.