In surgery, a biocompatible material (sometimes shortened to biomaterial) is a synthetic or natural material used to replace part of a living system or to function in intimate contact with living tissue. Biocompatible materials are intended to interface with biological systems to evaluate, treat, augment or replace any tissue, organ or function of the body. Biomaterials are usually non-viable, but may also be viable.
A biocompatible material is different from a biological material such as bone that is produced by a biological system. Artificial hips, vascular stents, artificial pacemakers, and catheters are all made from different biomaterials and comprise different medical devices.
Biomimetic materials are not made by living organisms but have compositions and properties similar to those made by living organisms. The calcium hydroxylapatite coating found on many artificial hips is used as a bone replacement that allows for easier attachment of the implant to the living bone.
Surface functionalization may provide a way to transform a bio-inert material into a biomimetic or even bioactive material by coupling of protein layers to the surface, or coating the surface with self-assembling peptide scaffolds to lend bioactivity and/or cell attachment 3-D matrix.
Different approaches to functionalization of biomaterials exist. Plasma processing has been successfully applied to chemically inert materials like polymers or silicon to graft various functional groups to the surface of the implant. Polyanhydrides are polymers successfully used as a drug delivery materials.
Care should be exercised in defining a biomaterial as biocompatible, since it is application specific. A biomaterial that is biocompatible or suitable for one application may not be biocompatible in another.
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