Mind & Matter


Advancing the Capabilities of Prosthetic Materials

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Detail of the titanium surface of a surgical implant. Courtesy: The Webster Laboratory, Brown University.


The bleeding edge of advanced materials is regularly defined by technologies developed for the human body. Synthetic materials play increasingly complex roles in prosthetic applications, for example, which seek acceptance by surrounding tissues, rapid healing, and the optimization of anatomical functionality.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research, a team from Brown University describes its development of a process to modify the surface of titanium leg implants to accelerate skin cell growth.

The two-step method involves the contouring of the nanoscale surface to mimic the surface of bone—in which hollow tubular microstructures encourage skin-cell attachment—as well as the application of skin-cell-growing proteins that hasten the healing process. The new technology can decrease the opportunities for infection while improving surgical recovery time.

“You need to close (the area) where the bacteria would enter the body, and that’s where the skin is,” says lead researcher Thomas Webster. With the application of the new technology, “you definitely have a complete layer of skin, there’s no more gap for the bacteria to go through.”




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.