Scales, such as those on fish and other animals, exhibit an amazing ability to keep attached to soft tissue. They’re strong while being flexible, so scientists have been trying to recreate some of their qualities for use in implants and other medical devices. Now an international team of researchers, headed by a group at the University of Chicago, have designed a way to grow microscopic scales that can attach themselves to soft tissues and stay in place for long periods of time.
The artificial scales are made of calcite, a compound found in clams, oysters, and other hard shelled animals, and silicone, a soft and biocompatible polymer. “Silicone alone won’t immobilize tissue components, and calcite alone is too stiff, but the combination of the two works very well,” said Asst. Prof. Bozhi Tian, the leader of the study group. “The result is a structure that is both strong and flexible.”
Each calcite scale is the size of a red blood cell and has a shape consisting of two square parts connected by a narrow rod. One of the square parts sits inside the silicone, while the other sticks out. When living tissue is placed against the exposed the array of the exposed squares, the scales attract calcium to themselves from the tissue and then the rest of the tissue grows around them. Since the exposed scales can be placed anywhere within the silicone substrate, they can be prepared specifically for different applications.
Study in Nature Communications: 3D calcite heterostructures for dynamic and deformable mineralized matrices…