"In the future there will be an intensive demand for Smart Biomaterials"

12 June 2018

Maria Vallet

María Vallet-Regí is an Emeritus Full Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Head of the Smart Biomaterials Research Group in the Department of Chemistry in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

María Vallet-Regí is an Emeritus Full Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Head of the Smart Biomaterials Research Group in the Department of Chemistry in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her multidisciplinary team works with Smart Materials: bioceramic, silica and nanoparticles that are taking personalized medical treatments to a whole new level.

What are Smart Biomaterials and how and when did you get interested in them?

A Biomaterial is a material which has been designed to interact with living organisms for a clinical purpose. The term "Smart" refers to the capacity to respond to the ambient in order to adapt their behavior. For example, a smart biomaterial is able to release drugs or imaging agents in response to the own pathological process in order to adapt the administered dosage.

One of your main fields of research is advanced bioceramics for bone tissue regeneration and scaffolding. What is the main purpose of this approach?

The high health, social and economic impact of bone pathologies has made my research group to dedicate much research effort on bioceramics for bone regenerative therapies and scaffolding. The evolution of bioceramics has undergone remarkable evolution in the last decades, with a three-stage evolution. The first generation was aimed at substituting damaged bone, the second generation involved the design of bioactive, biodegradable materials, and in the third generation the emphasis is in bone tissue regeneration.

My research team started working in this research field in the 90s and has been designing the last generation of innovative advanced bioceramics for over 15 years. We focus on developing 3D macroporous scaffolds, which supply responses adapted to the different stages of bone regeneration. We prepare implants through the accurate control of the chemical composition, mesoporosity, macroarchitecture and functionalization of surfaces with growth factors, with the aim of mimicking bone extracellular matrix.

Which are the new challenges in this field of research?

Implementing a personalized approach together with less invasive surgeries to restore human bone lost due to different diseases and trauma (osteoporosis, cancer, infection, etc.) is the main challenge in this field.

Your team also works on stimuli-responsive mesoporous nanoparticles for antitumoral therapy. Could you describe this research?

We focus on on developing nanoparticles able to transport drugs or any other biomolecule to certain diseased tissues and release them on-demand. Specifically, we are working with mesoporous nanoparticles because they can load greater amount of drugs than conventional nanoparticles, such as liposomes or polymeric nanoparticles. Additionally, we can decorate them with certain functional groups that confer them the capacity to respond to certain stimuli, which can be applied externally by the clinician or triggered inside the body depending on the treated pathology.

We have developed nanocarriers able to release drugs in response to the application of ultrasound, magnetic field and light of different weigh lengths, which allows to have a spatial and temporal control on the cargo release. We have also developed nanoparticles able to carry certain biomolecules and release them in response to gradients on the pH or overexpression of certain molecules, which are typical scenarios of certain pathologies. Thus, the cargo would only be released in the diseased areas without affecting healthy tissues and reducing the side effects typical from conventional therapies.

What can we expect in the future of Smart Biomaterials?

I think that academia and the biotechnology industrial sector should work together to develop the engineering of Smart Biomaterials to cure diseases, as this is an interdisciplinary field that needs the outcomes from chemists, biologists, engineers, physicists, clinicians and even business people. So far we have been able to produce smart biomaterials designed to interact with biological systems for a wide range of biomedical applications, and, in the next few years, exploitation on further benefits from those smart biomaterials is essential for implementing their potential applications and their production at a commercial scale level.

In the future there would be an intensive demand for Smart Biomaterials because of the growing geriatric population and the high incidence of cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disorders. It is our role and challenge, as researchers, to find and develop suitable solutions to those social problems. And to achieve that, we might need funding and resources so we could transform today's science into tomorrow's technology.


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