Engineering professor Webster named co-director of new U.S.-India partnership

The new ‘virtual center’ brings together researchers from the two countries who are developing biomaterials for medical applications.
By Richard C. Lewis  |  January 22, 2009  |  Email to a friend

Brown University is partnering with an Indian institution to further research into the emerging field of biomaterials – the creation of artificial and organic materials that are compatible with the human body, such as those used for contact lenses, joint replacements, and dental crowns.

Thomas Webster:   Thomas Webster The Indo-U.S. Center for Biomaterials for Health Care is the largest international research center funded by the Indo-U.S. Technology Fund, a nonprofit society established by the Indian and U.S. governments in 2000. The co-directors of the virtual center are Thomas Webster, associate professor in the Division of Engineering and the Department of Orthopaedics, and Bikramjit Basu, an associate professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at the India Institute of Technology at Kanpur.

Biomaterials are used to manufacture prostheses, implants, and surgical instruments. These materials are designed to be accepted by the human body, and they can be natural (collagen, cellulose) or synthetic (metallic, alloy, ceramic, plastic).

The center seeks to capitalize on the emergence of India’s manufacturing base, and one goal is to identify the most promising areas to explore. “What is exciting for me is you have all this talk of India becoming a major manufacturer in the next 10 to 20 years,” Webster says. “It’s critical that not only with the auto industry or electronics, but also with biomaterials, that the United States tries to help establish this manufacturing base for American companies.”

Other members of the biomaterials center are the University of Washington, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (Mumbai). Partners in government and industry include the Non Ferrous Technology Development Center and the National Metallurgical Laboratory in India, and Materials Processing Inc., a Texas-based private company.

The center will focus on:
• Metals and ceramic-based orthopedic implant materials, with particular emphasis on nanobiomaterials
• Fundamental investigation of cell-material interaction
• Polymer-based soft tissue/scaffold materials for tissue engineering applications
• Biomechanical characterization of implants
• Industrial-scale production of metallic, ceramic, and polymeric-based implants/scaffolds

Webster said the group is already pursuing research in bioceramics – creating synthetic materials that can act like bones. The Indian side will seek to artificially create the ceramic component of bone, while other researchers will try to develop sensors to determine if real bone is growing on the artificial structure.

Webster said he hopes to lure other faculty at Brown into this and other research projects and to help the center grow.

“There has been a big international push at Brown in the last few years, for Brown reaching across borders,” Webster says. “I hope other countries will recognize Brown as a strong biomaterials focal point, and that we’ll become world renowned in biomaterials research.”