skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Spare body parts for active (or not-so-active) people

New materials that reproduce our body tissues may heal joint injuries and other conditions

The human body is not made to last for the increasingly longer times we are now able to live an active life. As the global population increases at unprecedented rates, rapid advances in medical technology have allowed the number of elderly people to rise as well. By creating hard and strong sponges engineered at the molecular level, I am trying to repair the parts of the body that wear most.
One example is cartilage, the hard part of the nose and ears. Cartilage also sits between bones in your joints, such as the knee or elbow. Once it wears off, the body is incapable of repairing it unlike other tissues, leading to rubbing of bones in the joint and stiffening of the limbs, as well as chronic pain. In elderly people this is the result of a condition called osteoarthritis, but the same symptoms are often the results of sport injuries at a much younger age. A total joint replacement, the current standard for the treatment of broken cartilage, does not allow patients to run again for the duration of their life.


Tissue engineering has grown in the last twenty years to try and answer this challenge. The general approach makes use of biologically compatible materials that contain stem cells taken directly from the patient. As the material, called a cellular scaffold, is inserted back into the body it allows the repair of the target natural tissue as the body itself grows from within and through the scaffold. While this approach has proved successful in repairing tissues such as the skin of burn victims, or even the spinal cord of a paralysed man, intrinsic difficulties persist with engineering strong tissues like cartilage.


A cellular scaffold needs to be porous to accommodate cells, and is generally made of biodegradable plastics so that as the new tissue grows, the synthetic scaffold gradually disappears. The problem when making synthetic cartilage can then be thought of as making something like a kitchen sponge become as hard and strong as the kitchen counter, while not changing the material it is made of. Although this seems conceptually impossible at first, the ability to alter matter at the scale of single atoms has now given us the chance to create materials with characteristics never seen before. I make use of this to engineer porous biomaterials with the same mechanical properties as cartilage. These may be soon used as scaffolds to repair the damage brought by osteoarthritis and sport injuries, and improve the quality of life of millions of people worldwide currently suffering from these conditions.

Giovanni Offeddu

NanoDTC PhD Student Cohort 2012

RSS Feed Latest news

Midi+PhD Project Proposals from Cambridge Academics

Dec 19, 2018

We are now accepting project proposals for Midi (May-Jul 2019) + PhD projects (starting Oct 2019) for our c2018 students. Deadline 18 Feb.

NanoDTC student paper published in Nature Comms

Dec 07, 2018

c2013 student Jasmine Rivett was the first author on the recent paper, “Long-lived polarization memory in the electronic states of lead-halide perovskites from local structural dynamics” in Nature Communications.

Applications for Oct 2019 entry

Nov 15, 2018

We are now accepting applications for entry in Oct 2019. The deadline to be considered for the 1st round of shortlisting is 5th Dec 2018.

Black researchers shaping the future

Oct 13, 2018

As the UK marks Black History Month, researchers from across the University talk about their route to Cambridge, their inspiration and their motivation.