The world’s population is getting older, and age-related diseases are increasing. Modern cell culture techniques allow researchers to test biomaterials and translate those insights into novel therapeutic approaches. Applications range from implants and stents to regenerative therapies.
Biomaterials are natural or man-made substances that serve a medical purpose. They replace, repair, or restore damaged or missing tissue (Ramakrishna et al., 2001). Biomedical applications commonly employ metallic, ceramic, and polymeric materials – or biodegradable polymers as a subgroup (Ferraro, 2016). Composites, which are combinations of two or more substances, are engineered to meet specific requirements of a certain application (Salernitano and Migliaresi, 2003). For example, to replace a knee completely, a combination of carbon fibers with ultra-high-molecular weight polyethylene can be used (Ramakrishna et al., 2001).
Biomaterials in medicine are used in the form of implants, including joint replacements, artificial heart valves, and medical devices such as pacemakers, for example (Salernitano and Migliaresi, 2003). In regenerative medicine, researchers are investigating whether functional biomaterials could help restore tissue function by using decellularized human dermis, which form a scaffold for chondrocytes or mesenchymal stem cells (Giavaresi et al., 2013).
Considering the high clinical relevance of biomaterials, research that mimics in vivo conditions as closely as possible is of utmost importance. Cell culture, particularly three-dimensional cultivation of cells, helps to model such conditions. Hydrogels offer the potential to provide stem cells with a microenvironment that closely resembles their niche in the human body (Hilderbrand et al., 2016).
With in vitro assays, scientists can test biocompatibility of certain compounds, for example, doped polymers with osteoblasts (Fahlgren et al., 2015). This could lead to novel implants that release specific drugs to prevent implant-related complications. Other applications are investigating the growth behavior of human dermal fibroblasts on modified silicone rubber that is commonly used to build medical devices (Wang et al., 2014).
Foreign body reactions depend largely on macrophage polarization (Brown et al., 2015). The role of such reactions ranges from enhancing acceptance of the medical device to encapsulation. Nanotechnology allows scientists to build stents that can release drugs to prevent restenosis, which can boost the long-term benefit of a cardiac surgery (Yin et al., 2014).
State-of-the-art cell culture techniques can improve care and offer new therapy methods, especially for patients with age-related diseases.