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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Helmut Cölfen: Bone Biomaterials and Sea Urchin Cement

Biominerals and Biologically-Primarily based Supplies 

Biominerals are pure composite supplies based mostly upon biomolecules (similar to proteins) and minerals produced by dwelling organisms through a course of referred to as biomineralization [1]. Primarily, biominerals are minerals fashioned by dwelling organisms – and might vary from tiny microorganisms all the way in which upto people. A number of the commonest examples within the human physique embrace bones, fabricated from calcium phosphates – a sort of apatite biomineral – and enamel, that are fabricated from ivory, one other sort of apatite. The shells of oysters, mussels, and snails are additionally composed of this numerous class of minerals [2]. It’s precisely these biominerals that Dr. Helmut Cölfen researches.

Along with serving to organisms perform in some ways, biominerals maintain key details about their surrounding environments. Inspecting the chemical buildings in biomaterials can reveal clues about Earth’s altering local weather all through time: If we are able to perceive how biomineralization mechanisms operated again then, perhaps we are able to use them as basic guidelines when finding out the longer term [3]. 

It was after photos of those fantastic biominerals that Dr. Helmut Cölfen determined to base his analysis on biominerals and the way the biomineralization course of could possibly be used to assemble helpful artificial methods. Specifically, his lab conducts analysis into biominerals similar to nacre, seashells and mussel shells, sea urchin spines and, extra not too long ago, bones and enamel. These are used as the premise for the manufacture of biomaterials, having wide-ranging purposes in medication, dentistry, and building [4].

Determine 1: Software of biomaterials as implants in several areas of the human physique. 

Supply: Manivasagam et al. (2010). 

Bone and Enamel Biomaterials

Bone Grafting and Implants

As an vital tissue/organ within the human physique, bone performs a significant function in not solely defending the organs contained in the physique but additionally offering mechanical assist. Furthermore, it might probably coordinate with muscular tissue to perform numerous actions and reply to environmental modifications. Though bone has a sure functionality for regeneration and self-repair, massive bone defects brought on by extreme trauma, most cancers, or congenital illnesses can solely be repaired by bone grafting.

Bone biomaterials play a significant function in bone restore, and are actually dealing with rising demand. The precise biomaterial and porous construction can information and management the kind, construction, and performance of regenerated tissue [5]. The bone implants used encompass layers that mimic the physique’s pure bone to a greater diploma, inflicting the cells to connect with these implants a lot sooner as in comparison with conventional ones fabricated from titanium [4]. The biomaterials utilized in bone and joints, due to this fact, reconstruct or regenerate the musculoskeletal system and have huge software within the fields of orthopaedic, dental and neurosurgery.

Tooth-Filling Biomaterials

Determine 2: Software of biomaterials for tooth-filling 

Dental caries (or cavities) is among the most widespread illnesses in people and has turn out to be a heavy financial burden; it is usually a notoriously painful process that entails the dentist drilling holes within the enamel. Not too long ago, some novel biomaterials have been developed in caries prevention and therapy and present broad prospects of software. 

Dr. Helmut Cölfen describes two branches of therapy: the primary takes place earlier than the caries really develops, and thus doesn’t require the aforementioned process but. This often is the case for micrometre-sized holes within the enamel. On this first route of therapy, the outlet is stuffed with a liquid precursor that solidifies into calcium phosphate – this closes the cavity and prevents additional caries from creating.

In case of developed caries that necessitates drilling, dental amalgam is usually utilized by dentists, owing to its suitability as a cloth and low value. Nonetheless, the presence of mercury – which is doubtlessly poisonous if leakage takes place – in dental amalgam requires the synthesis of safer and extra sustainable options. Dr. Cölfen suggests utilizing a dental paste composed of biomaterial – composed of calcium phosphate and gelatin, its consistency will be various relying on the quantity of water added by the dentist [4]. 

The Curious Case of Sea Urchins

Determine 3: A more in-depth take a look at sea urchin spines

Whereas stepping on a sea urchin’s spines is a less-than-pleasant expertise, the spiky buildings are literally important protecting parts for the organism and forestall it from getting flattened by our foot. Sea urchin spines are created from onerous however brittle calcite – basically chalk – that’s usually damaged simply. However the calcite in sea urchins is tremendous sturdy as a result of it’s monocrystalline; that’s, it’s usually ordered like rows of bricks, whereas skinny amorphous layers in between them perform as a mortar that stops cracks from creating [6]. 

Impressed by this property, Dr. Helmut Cölfen and his crew developed a brand new type of concrete – basically, a modification of cement that allowed it to be extra elastic and crack-resistant by giving it a construction that mimics the nanoscale structure of sea urchin spines. Conventional cement, whereas sturdy and stress-resistant, has the tendency to crack when bent; these cracks are exacerbated by water. The variant created by Dr. Cölfen addresses this challenge, making a fracture-resistant materials. Amazingly, this new cement may create concrete that’s between 40 and 100 instances stronger than present mixes.

Study Extra

In case you’d like to listen to extra in regards to the fascinating world of biomaterials and their purposes, go to us on Spotify to hearken to our ChemTalk podcast with Dr. Helmut Cölfen, Professor of Bodily Chemistry at College Konstanz, to study extra about the advantages of sea urchin cement, how he first stumbled onto biomaterials, and what he considers important for these pursuing a profession within the sciences. 

Discover the ChemTalk podcast right here.

Works Cited

[1] ​​CURRAN, M. A. BIOBASED MATERIALS. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Know-how, ISBN: 9780471238966. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, , 1-19, (2010).

[2] “Biominerals.” Youtube, uploaded by L’ÉCOLE, Faculty of Jewellery Arts, 28 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1bNsgIemFQ

[3] Eisenstadt, Abigail. “How Biominerals are Stepping Stones for Local weather Change Analysis.” Smithsonian Journal. twenty second April 2021. 

[4] Cölfen, Helmut. Private Interview. Carried out by Olivia Lambertson. December 2022. 

[5] Gao, C., Peng, S., Feng, P. et al. Bone biomaterials and interactions with stem cells. Bone Res 5, 17059 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/boneres.2017.59

[6] Urquhart, James. “Sea Urchin Spines Encourage Elastic Concrete.” Chemistry World. fifth December 2017. 

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