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University of Cambridge
A biomaterial is any substance that has been engineered to interact with biological systems for a medical purpose - either a therapeutic (treat, augment, repair or replace a tissue function of the body) or a diagnostic one. As a science, biomaterials is about fifty years old. The study of biomaterials is called biomaterials science or biomaterials engineering. It has experienced steady and strong growth over its history, with many companies investing large amounts of money into the development of new products. Biomaterials science encompasses elements of medicine, biology, chemistry, tissue engineering and materials science.

Note that a biomaterial is different from a biological material, such as bone, that is produced by a biological system. Additionally, 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.

Biomaterials can be derived either from nature or synthesized in the laboratory using a variety of chemical approaches utilizing metallic components, polymers, ceramics or composite materials. They are often used and/or adapted for a medical application, and thus comprises whole or part of a living structure or biomedical device which performs, augments, or replaces a natural function. Such functions may be relatively passive, like being used for a heart valve, or may be bioactive with a more interactive functionality such as hydroxy-apatite coated hip implants. Biomaterials are also used every day in dental applications, surgery, and drug delivery. For example, a construct with impregnated pharmaceutical products can be placed into the body, which permits the prolonged release of a drug over an extended period of time. A biomaterial may also be an autograft, allograft or xenograft used as a transplant material.

The ability of an engineered biomaterial to induce a physiological response that is supportive of the biomaterial's function and performance is known as bioactivity. Most commonly, in bioactive glasses and bioactive ceramics this term refers to the ability of implanted materials to bond well with surrounding tissue in either osseoconductive or osseoproductive roles. Bone implant materials are often designed to promote bone growth while dissolving into surrounding body fluid. Thus for many biomaterials good biocompatibility along with good strength and dissolution rates are desirable. Commonly, bioactivity of biomateirals is gauged by the surface biomineralisation in which a native layer of hydroxyapatite is formed at the surface.

Self-assembly is the most common term in use in the modern scientific community to describe the spontaneous aggregation of particles (atoms, molecules, colloids, micelles, etc.) without the influence of any external forces. Large groups of such particles are known to assemble themselves into thermodynamically stable, structurally well-defined arrays, quite reminiscent of one of the 7 crystal systems found in metallurgy and mineralogy (e.g. face-centered cubic, body-centered cubic, etc.). The fundamental difference in equilibrium structure is in the spatial scale of the unit cell (or lattice parameter) in each particular case.

Molecular self-assembly is found widely in biological systems and provides the basis of a wide variety of complex biological structures. This includes an emerging class of mechanically superior biomaterials based on microstructural features and designs found in nature. Thus, self-assembly is also emerging as a new strategy in chemical synthesis and nanotechnology. Molecular crystals, liquid crystals, colloids, micelles, emulsions, phase-separated polymers, thin films and self-assembled monolayers all represent examples of the types of highly ordered structures which are obtained using these techniques. The distinguishing feature of these methods is self-organization.