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[Image above] Posters and talks at Innovations in Biomedical Materials 2016 presented the latest findings on novel materials for some interesting biomedical applications. Credit: ACerS

Sometimes inspiration is hard to come by in our day-to-day lives.

And sometimes it stands in front of us and presents itself.

That’s precisely what happened time and again at last weekend’s Innovations in Biomedical Materials conference at the Hyatt Rosemont in Chicago, Ill.

The meeting brought together around 100 scientists, medical professionals, and biomedical technology manufacturers and marketers to discuss the latest findings on new materials for biomedical applications, with a focus on cross-pollination to develop emerging technologies into marketable biomedical products.

And the inspiration? Patient stories that detailed just how significant of an impact new materials can have on peoples’ lives.

When it comes to research, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the larger goal in focus—the details of the experimental challenges themselves demand such attention that it’s easy to develop tunnel vision. But events like Innovations in Biomedical Materials help bring into focus the ultimate goal for many sectors of materials science and engineering—helping to improve people’s lives.

And that focus was front and center last weekend.

For example, Steve Jung of Mo-Sci Corp. presented work on bioactive borate glass fibers, demonstrating the incredible progress of this perhaps unlikely material for healing chronic wounds. Jung presented image after image of persistent and gnarly soft tissue wounds—large, gaping open holes in the body—and how wound dressings made of bioactive glasses successfully healed each case.

And that’s just one instance. Presentations spanned a wide variety of ways that materials can help the human body—from familiar applications such as ceramic hip implants to completely novel biomedical solutions, including materials-encapsulated islet cells to replace diabetic pancreases.

Many other presentations detailed similar advancements as the bioactive glasses—new materials, innovations, and technologies that are fascinating in their own right, but incredibly powerful once you consider that they are markedly improving peoples’ quality of life. Talk about inspiration.

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Technical talks spanned a variety of inspiring biomedical topics. Credit: ACerS

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The poster session allowed attendees to present the latest work on novel biomedical materials and stimulated robust discussions. Credit: ACerS

In additional to technical talks spanning five tracks—orthopedic applications; dental and maxillofacial applications; material needs for medical devices; advanced manufacturing technologies; and power sources, energy harvesting, power transmission, and telemetry—program chairs Roger Narayan, Alessandro Alan Porporati, and Markus Reiterer assembled an expert selection of diverse plenary speakers for the meeting.

Friday morning’s plenary talk by Robert Streicher (Universita dell’Insubria, Varese) kicked off the meeting with a discussion of periprosthetic joint infections, a rare but very deadly complication with biomedical implants. The infections consist of growth of a biofilm of antibiotic resistant bacteria on an implant, and they are incredibly difficult to treat—both because the bacteria are antibiotic resistant, and because biofilms of bacteria secrete a protective matrix that makes them even harder to attack. But oxide ceramics are offering themselves as a renewed alternative implant material that can better prevent microbial growth than metal or plastic.

Prashant Kumta (University of Pittsburgh) followed Friday morning with his plenary talk on 3-D printed scaffolds for bone regeneration. Kumta showed the exciting prospects of patient-customized, 3-D-printed bone scaffolds built from resorbable calcium phosphate cement. 3-D printing offers the benefits of matching the complex shapes and microstructure and macrostructure of porous bone, providing a promising conduit for the body to initiate repair.

Daniel Anderson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) opened eyes on Saturday morning with his plenary on new materials-based solutions to treat diabetic individuals. The overall theme of his talk was familiar—developing pathways to accelerate materials discovery, a sentiment that precisely echoes the Materials Genome Initiative. Much of Anderson’s talk centered around novel materials that are enabling researchers to explore ways to replace the defective pancreases of diabetics. However, instead of designing a replacement that mimics the original organ, Anderson inspired new ways of thinking with his presentation of microspheres of materials-encapsulated islet cells that can effectively function as a collection of mini-pancreases.

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ACerS president Mrityunjay (Jay) Singh (center) and program chairs Alessandro Alan Porporati (far left) and Roger Narayan (far right) present commemorative ceramic plates to plenary speakers Robert Stretcher (second from left) and Prashant Kumta (second from right). Credit: ACerS

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Panelists (left to right) Daniel Anderson, Roger Narayan, and Markus Reiterer fielded questions from the audience Saturday morning. Credit: ACerS

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Networking during the poster session. Credit: ACerS

Ming We (Edwards Lifesciences Corp.) kept attendees awake after lunch on Saturday afternoon with his inspiring plenary on materials innovations for fixing broken hearts. We’s talk began with a patient-focused video detailing the story of a woman who has happily received one of Edwards’ transcatheter heart valve replacements. The procedure and the valve are robust medical and materials achievements—together they provide a second chance at life for high-risk patients like the women shown in the video, who are unable to undergo open-heart surgery.

Joshua Jacobs (Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center) wrapped up the conference’s final day with his Sunday morning plenary talk on tribocorrosion of orthopedic implants. Jacobs discussed about some challenges of metal on metal hip implants, in which corrosion at the interface can be a big problem for implant recipients. That corrosion can release particulate and soluble metal that can migrate within the body, causing adverse tissue reactions.

Altogether, talks at Innovations in Biomedical Materials 2016 highlighted the incredible range of materials and solutions for an even wider range of biomedical applications, demonstrating the vast potential that specialized materials can have on human health—inspiration, to say the least.

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Ming We presents his plenary talk Saturday afternoon. Credit: ACerS

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There was plenty of time for valuable discussions during coffee breaks and networking lunches. Here, ACerS president Mrityunjay (Jay) Singh (right) catches up with a conference attendee. Credit: ACerS