New biomaterial could act as nerve guide

A medical implant with a texture that has been likened to noodles and calamari could be helping to ease human suffering in as few as five years time. Salubria, claims one of its inventors, is biocompatible with human tissue because of its attraction to water.

According to David Ku, professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, Salubria has three important properties. Firstly, it is an organic polymer, and not made from increasingly suspect silicone. The biomaterial also has enough mechanical strength to withstand normal physiological conditions combined with the elasticity and compliance to pulsate in rhythm with the heart.

For eight years Ku was using Dacron to replace patients’ arteries but soon became dissatisfied with the short life of the material, and the frequent need for additional surgery. Only when he began to see this as an engineering, rather than clinical problem, that a solution was found.

Animal testing has already demonstrated Salubria’s potential for both artery and cartilage replacement. “Salubria,” says Ku, “acts like a shock absorber or water bag between bones on patients with arthritis or sports injuries to the knee.” The studies suggest that the material could act as a nerve guide which may dramatically increase the speed at which severed nerves heal.