A biomaterial is any substance that has been engineered to interact with biological systems for a medical purpose - either a therapeutic (treat, augment, repair or replace a tissue function of the body) or a diagnostic one. As a science, biomaterials is about fifty years old. The study of biomaterials is called biomaterials science or biomaterials engineering. It has experienced steady and strong growth over its history, with many companies investing large amounts of money into the development of new products. Biomaterials science encompasses elements of medicine, biology, chemistry, tissue engineering and materials science.
Note that a biomaterial is different from a biological material, such as bone, that is produced by a biological system. Additionally, care should be exercised in defining a biomaterial as biocompatible, since it is application-specific. A biomaterial that is biocompatible or suitable for one application may not be biocompatible in another.
Biomaterials can be derived either from nature or synthesized in the laboratory using a variety of chemical approaches utilizing metallic components, polymers, ceramics or composite materials. They are often used and/or adapted for a medical application, and thus comprises whole or part of a living structure or biomedical device which performs, augments, or replaces a natural function. Such functions may be relatively passive, like being used for a heart valve, or may be bioactive with a more interactive functionality such as hydroxy-apatite coated hip implants. Biomaterials are also used every day in dental applications, surgery, and drug delivery. For example, a construct with impregnated pharmaceutical products can be placed into the body, which permits the prolonged release of a drug over an extended period of time. A biomaterial may also be an autograft, allograft or xenograft used as a transplant material.
Biomineralization is the process by which living organisms produce minerals, often to harden or stiffen existing tissues. Such tissues are called mineralized tissues. It is an extremely widespread phenomenon; all six taxonomic kingdoms contain members that are able to form minerals, and over 60 different minerals have been identified in organisms. Examples include silicates in algae and diatoms, carbonates in invertebrates, and calcium phosphates and carbonates in vertebrates. These minerals often form structural features such as sea shells and the bone in mammals and birds. Organisms have been producing mineralised skeletons for the past 550 million years. Other examples include copper, iron and gold deposits involving bacteria. Biologically-formed minerals often have special uses such as magnetic sensors in magnetotactic bacteria (Fe3O4), gravity sensing devices (CaCO3, CaSO4, BaSO4) and iron storage and mobilization (Fe2O3•H2O in the protein ferritin).