Introduction to materiomics
The ability to regenerate and repair tissues and organs – using science and engineering to supplement biology – continuously intrigues and inspires those hoping that the frailty of our bodies can be ultimately avoided. From ancient times, a surprising range of unnatural materials have been used to (partially) substitute human tissues for medicinal purposes. For example, in the era of the Incas (c. 1500), moulded materials such as gold and silver were used for the ‘surgical’ repair of cranial defects. In addition, archaeological findings reveal a wide range of materials, such as bronze, wood and leather, being used to replace and repair parts of the human body. Continuous refinement led to the first evidence of materials successfully implanted inside the body, reportedly used to repair a bone defect in the seventeenth century (see Further Reading).
Even earlier than this, the relationships between anatomy (i.e. structure) and function of living systems had been explored by Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, who were among the first few to apply fundamental science to biological systems. In the current age of technology, new materials for biomedical and clinical application have undergone a modern Renaissance, resulting in a surge in design and successful application (1–5). The concepts of tissue repair and substitution are constantly improving and becoming more accessible, as proven for example by the widespread occurrence (and popular approval) of total hip and knee replacements. But rather than replacement with synthetic analogues, can biological tissue(s) be directly engineered?