I’ve just got back from Brighton, having spent three days at the 21st European Conference on Biomaterials (ESB 2007). I was there to promote the theme issue of Journal of Materials Chemistry that I’ve been coordinating, on Biomedical Materials.
The highlight for me was Tuesday’s plenary lecture by Stephen Minger about stem cells. I think I’ll remember it for a long time as ‘when I finally “got” stem cells’, or when I understood their potential – and their drawbacks. When putting stem cells into parts of the brain can reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s, and continue to improve over 15+ years, you see their potential. When you realise it takes 10-20 embryos/foetuses to do this, you see the drawbacks.
His plenary was one of several from more clincally oriented speakers. Many of them were laying down challenges, or offering calls to arms, to the biomaterials community: this is what we need, please go away and make it for us. Ken Lavery (a maxillofacial surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead) certainly didn’t pull his punches, with pictures of mortar or shrapnel victims to illustrate just how complicated the cases could be.
Aside from the plenaries, I heard people talking about all kinds of materials that can be used to replace those already in your body: inorganic or composite materials for bones, sophisticated polymer scaffolds and hydrogels for soft tissues, etc. Even, it seems, materials based on skimmed soya milk! Not only can soybean-based biomaterials be used to repair bones, but Henry Ford tried to make cars out of them. Thanks to Jonathan Salvage, of the University of Brighton’s Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences department for that superb piece of trivia.