Designing Novel Nanoscale Ceramic Materials to Interact with Cells and Regenerate Tissues

At the forthcoming Institute of Nanotechnology/CERAM/Materials KTN Conference on ‘Nanoscale Bioceramics in Healthcare and High Performance Ceramics', to be held in Stoke-on-Trent, UK, in late Spring 2012, a panel of leading experts will examine how an increased understanding of the mechanics of cells and the utilisation of highly-versatile nanoscale ceramic and bioglass materials are contributing to exciting advances in regenerative medicine.

Biological systems are built up from nanoscale biomolecules (peptides, proteins, DNA, etc.) to create highly functional and dynamic structures, with complex mechanical properties and a hierarchical organization, ranging from nanometres to micrometres in scale. These structures support diverse biological functions, e.g. cell division, morphogenesis and the organization of tissues, but can also be damaged and altered by disease and trauma.

Understanding these complex biological structures and how they react with novel biomaterials is a key challenge for modern medicine, and constitutes the scientific background to tissue regeneration, nanomedicine, and bioinspired/biomimetic systems. Cells react to man-made implanted materials through interactions at the nanoscale that are modulated by mechanical properties as cells dynamically react to a variety of chemical and mechanical cues, a process known as mechanotransduction. A detailed understanding of these mechanical properties of living cells can facilitate the design of novel nanostructures that combine the functionality, selectivity and biocompatibility necessary to unlock the biology's innate powers of self-repair.

Professor Sonia Contera is Director of the Institute of Nanoscience for Medicine at Oxford University, a Principle Investigator at Oxford University's Physics Department, a RCUK Academic Fellow in Biological Physics and Nanomedicine and Senior Research Fellow at Green Templeton College. Professor Contera will describe techniques based on the use of atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study interfaces with a sub-nanometre resolution and will outline the development of techniques based on multifrequency-AFM for mapping the mechanical properties of living cells with unprecedented speed and accuracy in order to design hybrid nanostructures to promote tissue regeneration.

Professor Ruth Cameron is Chair of Materials Science at the University of Cambridge and directs the Cambridge Centre for Medical Materials. Professor Cameron will describe research at the Centre aimed at developing a range of materials with bioactive structures that encourage the natural function of tissues and which provide tailored mechanical support as scaffolds such as orthopaedic materials formed by combining carefully chosen calcium phosphate phases with a variety of macromolecules, or that release drugs at a controlled rate. She will also outline future strategies for the development of novel medical materials.

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