New generation of antibacterial materials for medical implants developed


Researcher Carles Mas and doctoral students Patricia López and Nerea García working with several samples as part of the Bio-TUNE project.

Researcher Carles Mas

Researcher Carles Mas leads the Bio-TUNE project.

The UPC’s Biomaterials, Biomechanics and Tissue Engineering Group (BBT) leads the international project Bio-TUNE, which aims to develop multifunctional materials with high antibacterial potential and efficient tissue integration. The consortium is made up of ten research teams from Europe, America and Asia, and is funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Jun 15, 2023

Bone grafting is only second to blood transfusion as the most common procedure worldwide, with more than 2.2 million procedures performed each year. However, it still has limitations as it is a painful and costly process that can pose risks to the patient, such as graft rejection and disease transmission.

When the procedure is not possible or bone grafting fails, alternatives such as prostheses are considered. Some of the most common prostheses replace hip and knee joints, with one million procedures performed in the US and the EU alone each year. However, 10% of prostheses end up failing mainly due to a lack of integration with the surrounding bone tissue—a process known as osseointegration—and the occurrence of infections, which promote the formation of bacterial biofilms resistant to the immune system’s defences and antibiotics.

Addressing these two issues is the goal of Bio-TUNE, a project led by the Biomaterials, Biomechanics and Tissue Engineering Group (BBT) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC), with researcher Carles Mas as the principal investigator. The project aims to develop multifunctional materials with high antibacterial potential and efficient tissue integration.

The goal is to minimise the risks of implants, as explained by Mas, who is also a professor at the Barcelona East School of Engineering (EEBE): “Medical implants still have too high failure rates today. Bio-TUNE aims to address the two main issues in such procedures at a time by developing new materials that improve the tissue integration of implants while efficiently inhibiting bacterial adhesion to surfaces.”

To achieve these goals, Bio-TUNE follows a three-fold strategy: “First, we try to understand the mechanisms involved in the interaction of cells and bacteria with implant surfaces. Second, based on this knowledge, we develop strategies to control such mechanisms, by drawing inspiration from nature and natural processes that enable bone regeneration or inhibit bacterial adhesion. Finally, Bio-TUNE also aims to assess how these new strategies could translate into innovative products that have a significant impact on society, ultimately leading to higher success rates in dental and orthopedic implants, for example. This would help avoid additional surgeries and associated complications.” 

Multidisciplinary research
The Bio-TUNE project is implemented by a consortium of ten research groups, universities and institutions from Europe, Asia and South America. It brings together experts in biology, materials science and engineering, biomedicine, pharmacy, chemistry and other related disciplines. So far, sensors have been designed to monitor cellular activity and differentiate between cellular and bacterial behaviour. Surfaces with nanoscale patterns and reliefs that enhance material-cell interactions have also been developed. Additionally, work has been done on the development of bactericidal agents by identifying molecules that could replace antibiotics, thus addressing the current problem of antibiotic resistance. These solutions will be implemented in coatings and multifunctional materials to simultaneously promote tissue integration and prevent germ proliferation.

Bio-TUNE is funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme as part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie RISE action, which promotes research and international collaboration while fostering research and innovation staff exchange. 23 researchers associated with the project have embarked on research visits worldwide and continue to contribute their work and knowledge to advance science.