Biomaterials a Focus for Researchers

Researchers are putting a focus on biomaterials with the launch of East Carolina University’s newest research cluster.

On April 5, the university launched its biomaterials research cluster as part of its annual Research and Creative Achievement Week, bringing together faculty and students across disciplines to discuss their work in the field.

Biomaterials are substances engineered to interact with natural biological systems, often for medical purposes. These substances can include materials used for joint replacements, heart valves, surgical sutures or ligament replacements, among others.

Biomaterials are frequently used in the cardiovascular, orthopedic, dental and neurological fields. The global biomaterials market is expected to reach $250.4 billion by 2025.

Associate professor of engineering Michelle Oyen said in the past, some research projects at ECU have been tangentially related to biomaterials, but there hasn’t been a concentrated effort to promote the field.

ECU professor Michelle Oyen talks about her biomaterials research.

Biomaterials research cluster co-director Michelle Oyen shares the vision of the cluster with her colleagues.

“We know there are researchers working in peripheral fields,” Oyen said. “We just don’t know exactly what each individual researcher is doing. That’s one of the missions of the cluster. We want to get everyone in a room, find out the research they’re conducting, the tools and techniques their using, and consolidate biomaterials research under the same tent.”

The cluster is led by Oyen and fellow co-directors Stephanie George and Nathan Hudson. Hudson said the cluster encourages collaboration between ECU clinicians in medicine, dentistry and allied health with basic scientists in engineering, physics, chemistry and biological sciences.

“We have quite a few departments with faculty working with biomaterials, but we don’t always have the opportunities to meet one another,” Hudson said. “The cluster gives us a chance to see what others are doing. We can then begin to figure out how we can collaborate with one another to help the public.”

The launch event was attended by more than 40 researchers from undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and faculty levels. Attendees were able to share their current research work in four-minute “lightning talks.” Presentations included representatives from physics, chemistry, kinesiology and engineering.

In addition to support provided by cluster co-directors, 2,400 square feet of lab space dedicated to biomaterials research will be provided to researchers on the fourth floor of the School of Dental Medicine over the next five years.

George said long term, the cluster will develop collaborative relationships with regional and national clinical, industrial and military partners.

“Today was a good start,” she said. “We’re really excited to finally get this cluster underway. We’re going to use this event as a launch pad to further biomaterials research at ECU.”

ECU’s research clusters were first launched in 2017 as part of the university’s Rural Prosperity Initiative. Learn more about the biomaterials cluster and explore additional research clusters online.