When will it be OK to use non-fibrous metals in your body?
Experts have been debating the use of non-machinery metals for the past 20 years, but this year a breakthrough in a new lab-developed process promises to change all that.
The lab, called the Nanophase Bioelectronics Nanoparticle, could potentially revolutionise the way we manufacture and use non-“ferrous” metals.
This is because, while they can be used in the manufacturing process, non-metals are not as robust as metals.
“It has to be the best alloy that is both stable, with a low melting point, and very low viscosity,” says Dr Joanna Williams, an expert in nanotechnology and nanostructures at the University of Melbourne.
The new process, called Nanophases, combines titanium dioxide, a key building block of biological cells, with non-metal nanocrystals.
The nanocrystal can be created by combining titanium dioxide and a variety of other metals, including tin and manganese.
These metallic nanocrysts can then be melted down to produce titanium dioxide.
This is a critical step because the metal nanocryst is the main building block for cells in the body.
The nano-metal nanoparticles can then attach themselves to the surface of the titanium dioxide (TiO 2 ) and bond with the titanium oxide to form a polymer.
This polymer can then bond to the underlying structure of the cell to form the desired structures.
“We’re basically creating a new way of manufacturing that can be mass-produced in a nanometer scale,” says Williams.
“This process has the potential to revolutionise biomedical engineering, and it’s just in the very early stages of development.”
Dr Williams is one of a number of researchers who have been working to develop the nanophases nanocomposite in a lab in Melbourne, Australia.
It was developed by the University’s Nanophasing Centre at the Institute of Nanoscience, and has been licensed to other institutions.
“The Nanophased Bioelectronic Nanoparticles are made from the same process that is used in nano-scale manufacturing to create the nano-size structures of proteins and DNA, and is now being developed for use in biotechnology,” says University of Queensland PhD student Dr Jie Zhang.
Dr Zhang is now using this nanocompose to make prosthetics, which are currently being developed in China.
“There are other processes that have been used for bioelectronics, but the nanoscale and nanophasing process has been particularly useful,” she says.
“If we can use the same materials, the same manufacturing process and use it in prosthetics that we’ve used for nano-composites, then it could allow us to create much larger and more complex prosthetic structures.”
The first prosthetic device that can use a nanocomplex is the Biomimetic Hand, developed by Dr Zhang and her colleagues.
It uses a titanium dioxide nanocompo, a material that is widely used in prosthetic materials.
Dr Williams hopes that this process will also be useful in the nanoplastics industry, which is dominated by the titanium industry.
“When you look at materials that are made of nanoscales and nano-sized structures, there are many advantages of the nanocomposition,” she explains.
“One of the most important advantages is the high mechanical strength of the material and the flexibility of the structure.”
Another benefit is the low visco-elasticity, and the low density of the materials.
So there are a lot of advantages in using a material like titanium dioxide in the materials that we use to manufacture prosthetics.
“The Nanopases NanoComposite is currently being manufactured in the lab of Dr Zhang’s group.
This first-of-its-kind work is a first step towards making these new materials commercially available.”
While we are at the beginning, we are confident that we have a very promising pathway forward,” says Professor Joanna Millington, a nanotechnology expert from the University and a member of the Institute for Nanosciences.”
I am optimistic that the nanomaterials can be manufactured using these materials in the future.
“However, I also believe that we need to ensure that the processes are as transparent and safe as possible, and to do this we need the right regulatory framework,” she adds.
The NanoComplex has been used in medical devices, and will soon be used for prosthetics as well.
“Ultimately the nanoparticles can be very flexible,” says Millingford.
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This will be a very exciting future and one that I expect to see for many years to come.”
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