In today’s eco-conscious and technologically advanced world, “biomimicry” is one of the buzzwords that’s often thrown around in casual conversation. For some of us, the breadth of our knowledge of what it is starts and ends with the relationship between nature and technology. But biomimicry is much more nuanced than that.
At its core, biomimicry is the solution to the challenges that the world is facing. It’s rooted in the interdependence of nature (forces of the environment) and culture (human creations and interventions). Biomimicry shows us how we can advance our technology and improve our quality of life without inflicting damage to the environment. It lets go of popular but very harmful practices. Examples are the reliance on fossil fuels and the use of plastic.
Biomimicry has been transforming different industries with its circular, cost-effective, and long-term solutions. One of the industries it’s impacting is the healthcare industry. Here’s how medical tools, machinery, and even practices are changing with the influence of nature.
Hearing Aids and Parasitic Flies
Hearing aids are one of the most in-demand medical devices. In the United States alone, around 28.8 million adults are in need of hearing aids. Those who are over the age of 70 need them the most. But only 30 percent of them have ever used hearing aids before. The good thing is that researchers and engineers are looking for innovative ways to improve hearing aids and make them more accessible to the public. With the advancements in the technology of hearing aids, it’s no wonder there’s much value in selling our hearing practice.
A team of researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, is taking inspiration from yellow Ormia flies to design hearing aids. The researchers chose this insect in particular because of the very effective way it relies on hearing to hunt down fellow insects for mating.
Personalized Vaccines and Biomimetic Nanotechnology
With the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are the talk of the town. Everyone around the world is vying for a vaccine dose to help us develop immunity from the coronavirus. We all are, after all, very eager to eradicate COVID-19 and start the post-pandemic world.
But prior to COVID-19, vaccines have been garnering a lot of attention, particularly personalized vaccines. This medical advancement helps doctors and researchers classify diseases, especially with the use of genomic technologies. But biomimicry is also a type of technology that’s advancing personalized vaccines.
The most popular way to marry biomimicry and vaccination is through the use of natural ligands. A popular example is arginyl glycyl aspartic acid (RGD). Another popular approach is the use of molecularly imprinted polymers. They would mimic how antibodies work and create more antibodies to achieve neutralization.
Self-cleaning Surfaces and Lotus Leaves
One of the top priorities of hospitals is keeping inch, nook, and cranny of them sanitized and pristine, especially now with the persistent threat of COVID-19. But it can be difficult to make sure of that. Some hospitals are severely understaffed when it comes to maintenance. In some cases, they also don’t have enough resources for cleaning and sanitizing.
Biomimicry helps with this issue by paving the way for surfaces with self-cleaning technology. Lotus leaves are common inspirations for this. Lotus plants are native to muddy environments. So it’s a wonder how the plant maintains its pristine condition. The surfaces of their leaves have epicuticular wax crystals that create their scaly texture. Because of the surface, water and particles have a hard time sticking to the plant.
Known as the “lotus effect,” many hospitals adapted this texture to their surfaces.
Bone Graft and Rattan
Who knew that we could fix damaged bones or achy joints with wood? It doesn’t seem possible, much less safe. But GreenBone proved us wrong when it launched its bone graft technology back in 2014. The medical researchers and engineers of the Italian startup turned to nature for a solution.
They used rattan, which is a plant that’s quite similar to bamboo. They chose rattan because the plant is very sturdy and can carry a lot of weight. They transformed the pieces of wood into hydroxyapatite (HA) and tricalcium phosphate (TCP). These two components are crucial to our bones.
Because of this medical innovation, GreenBone was able to transform the way we treat our broken bones. It helped improve the quality of life of some patients. And it helped reduce the expenses of healthcare.
With the way biomimicry is transforming the healthcare industry, it seems that this approach to technological advancements is limitless. If we just have the innovation and creativity to think of the most unusual solutions to healthcare, then we should be able to transform the industry for the better and in the long run.