Biomimetic medicine

The link between health and nature has been established since time immemorial in an intuitive way by humans. Traditional medicine has endeavored to identify, adapt and subsequently reproduce substances that have now become commonly used drugs.

This is the case, for example, of oleander roots and leaves, rich in oleandrin and a steroid compound, very similar to two cardiotonics frequently used in heart failure.

The cartesian perspective of medicine and its tendency to specialism have led it to an extreme focus, forgetting the context that gives full meaning to this knowledge.

Biomimicry, on the other hand, is inspired by natural dynamics: it is agile, heterodox, hybrid and experimental. In a similar way, current medicine requires new models, new ways of thinking, as happens with mutations that in themselves constitute an opportunity to develop other possibilities.

One of the first consequences of applying biomimetics in medicine is to implement transdisciplinary collaboration. Thus, the Karolinska Institute of Sweden develops workshops for doctoral students on biomimicry and circular design in the Department of Neurobiology.

On a more concrete level we can see how bio-inspiration has solved the difficult challenge of supplying insulin orally. Since its discovery in 1922, the researchers detected that this substance can not survive stomach acids.

In recent studies, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with the collaboration of Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Harvard University and funded by Novo Nordisk, designed a capsule inspired by nature, curved and steep as the shell of the leopard tortoise. The biomimetic principle, in this case, is that this design allows the animal to always reorient itself on the same lower face.

The resulting device is called self-orienting millimeter-scale applicator (S.O.M.A.) and allows to administer doses of up to 5 milligrams, amount necessary for a patient with type 1 diabetes, with the advantage that the material used is biodegradable. This study opens the doors for the use of polypeptide drugs, which until now were sensitive to the gastrointestinal tract.

Advances how this will be multiplied in the coming years, with actors in biomimicry present in 21 countries around the world and a global network that brings together more than 12,000 participants. In this context, the Biomimetics Sciences Institute is contributing through the dissemination of information and the promotion and accompaniment of diverse projects that seek to take advantage of nature's potential as a source of solutions for a truly sustainable future.

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Ludimila França
Biomimetics Sciences Institute