The ultimate in “wearable” Health Tech is a device that we can carry around on the inside of our bodies. It’s not too difficult to use chemically-inert materials that don’t add potentially toxic chemicals within the body, but rejection is always a concern. If the body’s defenses identify the implant as something foreign, it can trigger infection reactions or other complications.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) may have come up with an elegant solution. The key to the problem is that implants exist outside the cell walls of the host tissues. This space is filled with “extracellular matrix” (ECM) which is a soup of materials that are different from one tissue to the next. For example, bone cells produce a mixture of minerals that help create and strengthen the bone, while skin sells produce collagen and elastic fibers.
The scientists have developed a technique to create customized ECM. They choose molecules that they want to incorporate, then attach them to special sugar molecules. They then add this sugar to cell cultures of the desired tissue. The cells absorb the sugars, and then manufacture ECM that includes the desired chemicals. This process could be used to create ECM that will adhere to the surface of an implant, coating it with material that looks natural to the host body’s defenses. If this process works out, it could lead to new devices that could become part of our bodies on a permanent basis.