Regenerative Biomaterials

Current research at the Biggs lab is focused on applying nanofabrication techniques to novel classes of electrically active and responsive ‘smart’ materials. Dr Biggs’ laboratory is focused on the development of tuneable, bioactive biomaterials for musculoskeletal and neural regeneration. Critically, Dr Biggs’ research integrates material science, electronic engineering, top-down nanofabrication techniques and biological functionalisation strategies in the development of next-generation biomaterials platforms.

Neural Interfaces 

A key research focus for the Biggs lab is neural biomaterials and the integration of implanted neuroelectrodes to promote functionality of neuromodulation devices or at the brain-machine interface. When a device is implanted into the CNS, however, astrogliosis mediated encapsulation at the peri-electrode region can occur, increasing tissue impedance and diminishing the ability of an electrode to record neural signals, or induce stimulation. Biomaterials approaches provide excellent opportunities for functional modification of the electrode interface, by integrating electromechanical functionality with biomechanical functionalisation to promote electrode integration and reduce peri-implant inflammation.

Electromechanical Bioreactors

Studies into the role of electrical stimulation in tissue regeneration have been ongoing following the discovery that bone was a piezoelectric substance in the 1950s and that electric fields induced in bone by cyclic loading could promote bone remodelling. From a cellular point of view, it has also been demonstrated that electrical fields can guide the migration of cells in vitro (galvanotaxis) and evidence is emerging on the regenerative role of electrical fields in the bone nervous and vascular systems. Dual electromechanical stimulation may exploit the inherent capacity of mechanically active tissues to produce enhanced conditions for tissue repair.  The Biggs Lab is conducting pioneering researching to high-frequency, low amplitude electromechanical stimulation to enhance regeneration.

Electrically Responsive Scaffolds 

Studies into the role of electrical stimulation in tissue regeneration have been ongoing following the discovery that bone was a piezoelectric substance in the 1950s and that electric fields induced in bone by cyclic loading could promote bone remodelling. From a cellular point of view, it has also been demonstrated that electrical fields can guide the migration of cells in vitro (galvanotaxis) and evidence is emerging on the regenerative role of electrical fields in the bone nervous and vascular systems. Dual electromechanical stimulation may exploit the inherent capacity of mechanically active tissues to produce enhanced conditions for tissue repair.  The Biggs Lab is conducting pioneering researching to high-frequency, low amplitude electromechanical stimulation to enhance regeneration.

Implantable Neuromodulation Systems 

Chronically implanted systems for electrical stimulation of the peripheral and central nervous system, have received FDA approval for the treatment of multiple neurodegenerative diseases and have a combined global market value at an estimated $4.9 billion. Neuromodulation as a therapy has evolved from the ability of externally applied electrical pulses to block or regulate aberrant neural activity and provides efficient treatment for more than 450 million people worldwide affected by neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, peripheral neuropathy, epilepsy, brain injuries and paralysis.

Although great progress has been made in the development of chronically implanted neural stimulation systems, many challenges remain. These include maintaining the reliability and repeatability of the electrical signal delivered at the electrode interface, limiting damage to the surrounding tissue and ensuring the stability of the device at the dynamic site of implantation. 

Implantable Biosensors

Given rising healthcare costs, there has been an ongoing move toward personalized medicine, shorter hospital stays and ambulatory health monitoring via remote data acquisition. Technological advancements have led to the miniaturization of monitoring devices and power sources, enabling a whole new world of possibilities and innovations. Wearable and implantable technologies can sense physiological parameters and transfer data to a remote center, direct the patient to take a specific action, or automatically perform a function based on what the sensors are detecting. Nano-engineered biomaterials and systems are making some of the most significant contributions to attaining improved clinical outcomes for patients suffering from long- term chronic conditions, age-related degeneration and traumatic injury.

The National University of Ireland, Galway

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