Using implants to regenerate tissue

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Prof. Dr. Aldo R. Boccaccini (Image: FAU/ Lehrstuhl Biomaterialien)

Second round of DFG funding for developing innovative electrically active implants.

The Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1270 ‘Electrically Active Implants – ELAINE’ (coordinated by Universität Rostock) is researching electrically active implants capable of regenerating bones and cartilage or stimulating the brain in the hope of treating motor disorders, caused for example by Parkinson’s disease. In the interdisciplinary research collaboration, researchers from FAU are designing the necessary electrically active biomaterials. The Collaborative Research Centre has received a second round of funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) lasting until 2025 and worth approximately 12.4 million euros. Scientists specialising in electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, mechanical engineering, materials science, physics, biology and medicine are all involved in CRC 1270.

Implants capable of restoring functions

In an ageing population, medical implants are set to become ever more important for retaining or restoring various functions in the human body. CRC 1270 ELAINE is designing devices which can be used over the long term aimed at treating motor disorders by stimulating the brain or stimulating the regeneration of bones and cartilage. The implants are powered by patients’ movements, making them particularly energy-efficient or even entirely energy self-sufficient. They are also capable of sending data, and can be programmed flexibly. This opens up the door to new long-term medical applications and individual treatments.

FAU designing new biomaterials

The team led by Prof. Dr. Aldo R. Boccaccini, head of the Chair of Materials Science (Biomaterials) at FAU is developing innovative, electrically active biomaterials for tissue regeneration. As well as researching new stimulating materials, the team is also creating materials using 3D printers. In the first funding period from 2017 until 2021, the researchers led by Prof. Boccaccini succeeded in using hydrogels, which are polymeric networks extensively swollen with water, to influence the electrical conductivity of the materials. This appears to be a promising approach for using electrical stimulation to influence the cell response and generate new tissue. In the second round of funding until 2025 they hope to extend this approach to other materials. ‘We are focusing on the 3D printing of various materials such as plastic, ceramics or gels. We hope to discover innovative combinations of materials which will lead to complex implant solutions for the regeneration of cartilage,’ explains Prof. Boccaccini.

The overriding aim in the second funding period is to design implants for electrically stimulating bone or cartilage defects and regions deep within the brain. These implants should be capable of collecting and processing data, be tailored to the individual medical condition and be energy-self-sufficient. Overall, the interdisciplinary research programme hopes to discover new approaches for biomedical implants, thereby increasing the chances of overcoming the health problems of an ageing population.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Aldo R. Boccaccini
Chair of Materials Science (Biomaterials)