Smart fabric mimics bone tissue

February 10th, 2017 / By: / What's New?

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) announces that biomedical engineers at the University have woven a “smart” fabric that mimics the properties of the bone tissue periosteum, a soft tissue sleeve that envelops most bony surfaces in the body. The complex arrangement of collagen, elastin and other structural proteins gives periosteum marked resilience and provides bones with added strength under high-impact loads.

UNSW’s Paul Trainor Chair of Biomedical Engineering, professor Melissa Knothe Tate, said her team had mapped the tissue architectures of the periosteum, visualized them in 3-D, scaled up the key components and produced fabric prototypes using a computer-controlled jacquard loom.

Basic components of periosteum, elastin and collagen fibres are too small to fit into the loom. To capture the properties of each in the tissue-weaving process, the team used elastic material that mimics elastin and silk that mimics collagen.

Periosteum is a tissue fabric layer on the outside of bone, as seen in the upper diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The natural weave of elastin (green) and collagen (yellow) are evident when viewed under the microscope. Elastin gives periosteum its stretchy properties and collagen imparts toughness. Muscle is organized into fiber bundles, observed as round structures in the lower diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The volume is approximately 200 x 200 microns (width x height) x 25 microns deep. Photo: Melissa Knothe Tate.
Periosteum is a tissue fabric layer on the outside of bone, as seen in the upper diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The natural weave of elastin (green) and collagen (yellow) are evident when viewed under the microscope. Elastin gives periosteum its stretchy properties and collagen imparts toughness. Muscle is organized into fiber bundles, observed as round structures in the lower diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The volume is approximately 200 x 200 microns (width x height) x 25 microns deep. Photo: Melissa Knothe Tate.

“The result is a series of textile swatch prototypes that mimic periosteum’s smart stress-strain properties. We have also demonstrated the feasibility of using this technique to test other fibres to produce a whole range of new textiles,” Professor Knothe Tate said.

Future applications may include protective suits that stiffen under high impact for skiers, race car drivers and astronauts; compression bandages for deep-vein thrombosis that respond to the wearer’s movement; and safer, stronger, steel-belted radial tires.

The UNSW team, however, is focused on the technology’s human potential. “Our longer term goal is to weave biological tissues—essentially human body parts—in the lab, to replace and repair our failing joints that reflect the biology, architecture and mechanical properties of the periosteum,” first author and biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate Joanna Ng said.

An Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council development grant will allow the UNSW team to work with U.S.-based Cleveland Clinic and University of Sydney’s Professor Tony Weiss to use the smart technology to develop and commercialize prototype bone implants for preclinical research within three years.

The research was published in Scientific Reports, an open access, online journal from the publishers of Nature.