Researchers in the U.K. and Japan have developed a 3D matrix of flexible glass fibers that can be used to help the human body self-repair.

Researchers in the U.K. and Japan have developed a 3D matrix of flexible glass fibers that can be used to help the human body self-repair.

Credit: Dr. Julian Jones, Dr. Richard Cook, and Dr. Ian Thompson

A common presumption about the work of biologists and biological engineers is that their primary material palette is living tissue. Since these researchers work in the life sciences, it seems logical for their main focus to be on organic substances. However, scientists in these disciplines have become increasingly interested in the interactions between living and nonliving materials, leading to the cultivation of nonliving substances that benefit life.

One example is bioactive glass, a type of ceramic biomaterial that supports the growth of bone and other tissues in the human body. Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Manchester in the U.K. and the Nagoya Institute of Technology in Japan recently announced the development of a 3D scaffold made of bioactive glass. Using electrospinning to weave a matrix of flexible glass fibers, the scientists created a sponge-like lattice that emulates the fibrous extracellular matrix of bone tissue. According to the team, the bio-friendly material supports rapid bone growth with no adverse effects.

"Bioactive glass can stimulate bone growth and bond with bone and soft tissue … [but] bulk glasses are brittle,” Gowsihan Poologasundarampillai, a biomaterials research fellow at the University of Manchester, toldMaterials Today. Poologasundarampillai, who was first author of the related paper that was published in the August 2014 issue of the journal Acta Biomaterialia, continued: "It is usually difficult to make into fibers without crystallization … [but] in this work we have produced flexible cotton wool–like bioactive glass fibers.”

In addition to helping bones repair, the scientists also think the material could be used in dental implants. Additionally, they are developing a bioactive glass with antibacterial properties for use in wound-closure systems.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.