We humans have a natural immune defense that never rests. Our cells are constantly on the guard against intruders and without our immune defense we would die quickly from infections from different microorganisms. Unfortunately, the defense system of our bodies can also cause problems when we actually want them to accept foreign materials. These materials can be anything from the cardiopulmonary bypass used at a surgical operation, the dialysis machine for renal failure, joint replacements, or artificial heart valves.
Materials in contact with body tissue are usually referred to as biomaterials, since they come into contact with biological tissue in our bodies. As soon as a person's blood comes into contact with the biomaterial the body's different defense mechanisms are activated, which may result in effects that are dangerous for the patient, e.g., thrombus, serious inflammations, or rejection of the unfamiliar material.
Since the use of materials that our bodies are unfamiliar to is increasing by the day, studies and synthesisation of biomaterials have become a new and important specialisation in chemistry. New technologies are required in order to protect the biomaterial and cells from being detected as unfamiliar by the natural immune defense.
The collective research effort at the centre falls under the heading of biomaterials chemistry, a field of research dealing with, and having direct consequences for, the development of new treatments, clinical diagnostics, environmental diagnostics and functional applications like catalysts and extremely sensitive detectors. The research at the centre covers everything from fundamental studies of biological processes and design, to the development and application of materials for integration in biological systems, or in functions that imitate biological functions. The focus of the centre as well as its combined expertise are unique in Sweden.
New, unique approaches in biomaterials chemistry
Biomaterials are artificial materials used in various types of medical equipment to replace or assist bodily functions. Biomaterials chemistry is a broad discipline that covers a number of different specialties, ranging from chemistry and biochemistry, via biotechnology, to immunology, and physiology, in order to provide results that are applicable in various medical treatments.
Today, biomaterials are used routinely within medicine, odontology, and biotechnology. However, if we go back just 50 years the word biomaterials was unheard of. Humans have, however, used materials unfamiliar to the body within medicine for a much longer period of time – e.g., dentures made of shells have been found with Maya Indians who lived 1400 years ago, and in the Ancient Egypt wounds were stitched together with linen threads. But there was not any understanding of biocompatibility and no academic training within the field. Modern biomaterials science is still very young, and many unsolved questions remain. One great challenge is to develop materials that are accepted by our bodies.
The cutting-edge research group at Linnaeus University within the field of biomaterials chemistry comprises new and previously not used methods for developing new materials with predetermined qualities, both on molecular and nanostructural levels, with possible long-term application in cardiovascular research, controlled medicine dosage, detection technology, and a number of other areas.
That the field of research is of immediate interest is clearly evident from the efforts being made by, for instance, FP7 (EU) and Swedish SSF, to stimulate development within the field, as well as by the fact that the Royal Society of Chemistry recently established a department for biomaterials chemistry.
Many biological processes are determined by how different molecules in substances recognise and bind each other. One such example is our immune defense, which is controlled by molecules called antibodies. These molecules recognise and bind unfamiliar molecules called antigens. This way antibodies render the unfamiliar substances harmless. Antibodies recognise antigens by having something reminiscent of a pouch that fits the structure of an antigen perfectly.
It is possible to create this kind of recognition artificially through molecular plastic casting technology. This is achieved by mixing plastic building blocks with the molecule one wishes to attract. When the plastic has solidified you wash away the molecule. What remains are casts that molecules of that kind can attach to when they come across the site. However, the downside is that you also get a number of imprints that are not so good, and will not be recognised by the molecules that you wish to attract. One can try to minimise this by trying to understand why the imprints are created and then provide the materials with as good conditions as possible for making good imprints. The solution can be, for instance, to use the correct solvent or the correct temperature.
Kristina Nilsson Ekdahl is professor of immunology at Linnaeus University, and research manager for the cutting-edge research group Linnaeus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry.
– We hope to increase awareness of the chemical processes that are the underlying causes for the use of biomaterials in different medical applications, says Kristina. The human body is programmed to identify and destroy substances it is not familiar with. We strive to imitate, manipulate, or deceive the different mechanisms of the body in order to come up with materials that are 'kinder' to the body, Kristina explains.
– Hopefully our research will lead to increased knowledge that can be converted into improved treatment that more easily can be tailor-made, says Kristina. One can come up with a number of possible areas of application for these tailor-made materials. More accurate and sensitive sensors, i.e., instruments that are able to measure the amount of different medicines and other substances in blood and other bodily fluids, or in the environment. Particles that more efficiently can bind and transport various types of medicines, e.g. cytotoxic drugs, and then deliver them to the right place in the body, e.g. a cancer tumor.
Workshop about Rosetta [10 April 2017]
Researchers within the Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry recently arranged and participated in a workshop focused on the use of Rosetta, a software developed for protein engineering. The workshop took place 5-6 April at Ekerum, Öland.
The Linnaeus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry embraces the following research groups.
Bioactive Polymers Laboratory (BPL) In the Bioactive Polymers Laboratory research group, we are interested in various aspects of bioactive polymers – peptide discovery, synthesis, structures, activitie…
Bioorganic and Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory The Bioorganic and Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory (BBCL) is based in Kalmar at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. As the name suggests, we are a …
Computational Chemistry and Biochemistry Group We use computer simulations to better understand how biologically-relevant and other interesting molecules behave. By using computer modelling and simulat…
Host Response to Biomaterials Laboratory (HoRB) In the Host Response to Biomaterials Laboratory research group, we study the reactions that occur in contact between blood and biomaterials. The goal is …
Physical Pharmacy Laboratory We are using chemical and physical principles to study the molecular events underlying the development and design of pharmaceutics and their formulations.
- Björn Karlsson Associate Professor
- Håkan Andersson Senior lecturer
- Ian Nicholls Professor, Dean
- Kristina Nilsson-Ekdahl Professor
- Per Nilsson Associate senior lecturer
- Ran Friedman Associate Professor
- Ulrika Johansson Associate senior lecturer