Integrating technologies to develop smarter implants and improved health care

Biomaterials have evolved from inert to biodegradable, bioactive and multifunctional. With advances in innovative processing techniques, it was possible to build strong yet biodegradable multifunctional implants that made an impact on clinical care of many patients worldwide. Advances in tissue engineering made it possible to accommodate cells in biodegradable scaffolds and develop living implants. To mimic tissue structure, nanofiber-based constructs were then developed. With the advent of three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting, cell containing bioinks were developed and control over cell distribution in engineered tissue constructs was achieved. To further leverage the advantages biodegradable materials offer, biodegradable sensors were developed to allow temporary monitoring of certain functions and parameters in the body. Further, it was possible to develop sensor-integrating implants that can sense changes in their microenvironment before these changes evolve into irreversible problems that lead to implant failure and necessitate surgical removal. There are already major developments that include developing electroconductive, self-healing and four-dimensional (4D) biomaterials. In future, combined approaches and technologies merge will enable the development of implants with self-awareness, actuation, self-correction/healing, and behavior mimicking that of native tissues.