Bio-nanotechnology: Implications for More Effective Tissue Engineering Materials

By Thomas J. Webster

Purdue University

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Nanotechnology can be defined as using materials and systems whose structures and components exhibit novel and significantly changed properties by gaining control of structures at the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular levels. Although many advanced properties for materials with constituent fiber, grain, or particle sizes less than 100 nm have been observed for traditional science and engineering applications (such as in catalytic, optical, mechanical, magnetic, and electrical applications), few advantages for the use of these materials in tissue-engineering applications have been explored. However, nanophase materials may give researchers control over interactions with biological entities (such as proteins and cells) in ways previously unimaginable with conventional materials. This is because organs of the body are nanostructures and, thus, cells in the body are accustomed to interacting with materials that have nanostructured features. Despite this fact, implants currently being investigated as the next-generation of tissue-engineering scaffolds have micron-structured features. In this light, it is not surprising why the optimal tissue-engineering material has not been found to date.

Over the past two years, Purdue has provided significant evidence to the research community that nanophase materials can be designed to control interactions with proteins and subsequently mammalian cells for more efficient tissue regeneration. This has been demonstrated for a wide range of nanophase material chemistries including ceramics, polymers, and more recently metals. Such investigations are leading to the design of a number of more successful tissue-engineering materials for orthopedic/dental, vascular, neural, bladder, and cartilage applications. In all applications, compared to conventional materials, the fundamental design parameter necessary to increase tissue regeneration is a surface with a large degree of biologically-inspired nanostructured roughness. In this manner, results from the present collection of studies have added increased tissue-regeneration as another novel property of nanophase materials.


Prof. Webster obtained a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering (University of Pittsburgh, 1995) and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Biomedical Engineering (both at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; 1997 and 2000, respectively). He started as an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue in 2000. His lab (the "Nanostructured Biomaterials Laboratory") has completed extensive studies on the use of nanophase materials as tissue-engineering constructs. His lab currently has 16 post-doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate researchers; 4 students have graduated from his lab with M.S. degrees since 2000. Work from his lab has resulted in 5 invited book chapters, 52 peer-reviewed publications (in press or published), 9 patents (disclosed, provisional, or full), and over 90 contributed and invited papers at national/international professional society meetings. His research on nanophase materials for tissue-engineering applications has received attention in recent media publications such as Chemical and Engineering News, Advances in Nanomaterial Research, Nanoparticle News, American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Materials Research Society Bulletin, and High Tech Ceramics News. Prof. Webster has organized symposia on the integration of biology and nanomaterial science at several conferences including the American Institute of Chemical Engineering, Society for Biomaterials, and the Biomedical Engineering Society. He is the current recipient of the Biomedical Engineering Society Rita Schaffer Young Investigator Award for initiating new research directions in the fields of biomedical engineering. Prof. Webster also has published papers and has received awards for increasing female and minority representation in engineering.

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  • Thomas J. Webster (2003), "Bio-nanotechnology: Implications for More Effective Tissue Engineering Materials,"

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