Someday, Antoni Tomsia’s research could help people live full lives even as their bones weaken. The Berkeley Lab scientist recently received a $4.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop bone-like materials that could greatly improve implants such as artificial hips and shoulders.

Antoni Tomsia’s pursuit of better biomaterials blurs the boundaries between several scientific disciplines.  

Tomsia’s goal is to harness the latest advances in nanotechnology to fabricate implants that repair themselves, adapt to changing physiological conditions, and mesh with surrounding tissue — in other words, behave like real bone. In contrast, today’s artificial joints are made from metal alloys that often trigger inflammation and immune responses, or require corrective surgery after only a few years. The need for better biomaterials is further underscored by the growing demand for artificial joints. More than 150,000 hip replacements and nearly 300,000 knee replacements were performed in 2000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. These numbers are expected to swell in the future as baby boomers age.

To meet these demands, and create the next generation of artificial joints, Tomsia has assembled a multidisciplinary team of scientists from Berkeley Lab, the University of California's Berkeley and San Francisco campuses, and other institutions.

  Tomorrow’s strong, long-lasting artificial joints could rely on scaffolding with a dense core and increasingly greater porosity toward the surface.

“We’re at the interface of chemistry, biology, materials science, and medicine,” says Tomsia, “Teamwork is absolutely necessary to design better implants.”

Tomsia, who arrived from Poland as a postdoc in 1978, is a 25-year veteran of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division.

His career has steadily trended toward the development of more lifelike biomaterials. After following his father’s footsteps into materials science, his Berkeley Lab research has focused on exploring the interface between metals and ceramics. His foray into hydroxyapatite and hydrogel-based materials began several years ago, when he designed coatings for industrial applications as part of DOE Basic Energy Sciences-funded research. Now, the NIH bioengineering research partnership grant allows Tomsia and his team to more thoroughly investigate the biological attributes of these substances.

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Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory