December 15, 2023 | Matthew B. Boyd

Related Articles


Explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences.



Common Types Of Biomaterials In Life Sciences


From the resilient metals that underpin orthopedic implants to the versatile polymers powering drug delivery systems, biomaterials play an essential role in a wide range of biomedical applications. This article explores the common types of biomaterials, including metals, polymers, ceramics, composites, hydrogels, and nanomaterials. We examine material properties, applications, and potential limitations and also provide a useful taxonomy to understand their varied applications across life sciences.  



Metal biomaterials are used in life sciences due to their excellent mechanical properties, high strength, and durability. They offer good biocompatibility and can coexist within biological systems. Metal biomaterials are used in various applications, from orthopedic implants and dental prosthetics to cardiovascular stents and surgical instruments. 

Some metals may have limitations; this includes the risk of corrosion, particularly in environments predisposed to such challenges. In these cases, considering the longevity of implants and devices is prudent. There is also a potential risk of immune responses from some patients. This underscores the importance of an informed approach in selecting materials to understand and align them with specific clinical applications. 

The most common types of metal biomaterials are listed below. 

Stainless Steel 

Stainless steel is a ubiquitous biomaterial often used for its corrosion resistance and mechanical strength. It is used in surgical instruments, orthopedic implants, and dental instruments.


Titanium is known for its biocompatibility and high strength-to-weight ratio. It is frequently employed in orthopedic implants, dental implants, and various surgical instruments.


Cobalt-chromium alloys offer a balance of strength, corrosion resistance, and biocompatibility. They are commonly used in joint replacements, cardiovascular stents, and orthopedic implants.


Nickel-titanium (Ni-Ti), known as Nitinol, is a super elastic shape-memory alloy. It is employed in applications like orthodontic wires, stents, and guidewires.

Gold & Platinum

Gold and platinum are used in specialized biomedical applications such as electrodes and specific diagnostic tools. 


Tantalum is known for its excellent biocompatibility and corrosion resistance and is often used in bone implants and coatings for implants to enhance osseointegration.


Copper is less commonly used than other metals but has valuable antimicrobial properties in specific biomedical applications, such as wound dressings and surfaces prone to contamination.


Magnesium and its alloys are emerging as a biodegradable material, and it shows promise in applications where temporary support is required, such as in bone implants.


Upma Sharma on commercializing biomaterials as medical devices. 



Polymers are versatile biomaterials that can be engineered to meet specific application requirements. They provide various benefits, including flexibility, biocompatibility, and tunable degradation rates. Polymers are used in tissue engineering, drug delivery, tubing and catheters, surgical sutures, and other biomedical applications.  

Polymers have some limitations, including the variability in biodegradation rates, which can be challenging to predict and control and may lead to unexpected outcomes. Some polymers may also fall short in strength, limiting their use in load-bearing applications. It's crucial to consider factors like these when selecting polymers for specific biomedical applications. 

The most common types of polymer biomaterials are listed below.


Polyethylene (PE) is a thermoplastic polymer known for its high strength-to-weight ratio, durability, and low friction properties. It is widely used in joint replacements, prosthetic components, and orthopedic implants.


Polyurethane (PU) has excellent resilience, flexibility, and resistance to wear and tear; typical applications are medical tubing, catheters, and other flexible medical devices.

Poly Lactic-co-Glycolic Acid

Poly Lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) is a biodegradable polymer extensively utilized in drug delivery systems. Its controlled degradation allows for precise and sustained release of therapeutic agents, making it a critical enabling technology for controlled drug delivery applications. 

Polyvinyl Chloride

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a versatile thermoplastic polymer used in various medical applications, including intravenous tubing, blood bags, and medical packaging.


Polypropylene (PP) is known for its high tensile strength and chemical resistance, and it is commonly used in sutures, wound closure devices, and surgical meshes.

Polymethyl methacrylate

Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) is an acrylic polymer widely used in fabricating bone cement for orthopedic surgery to anchor implants.


Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, is known for its low friction and chemical inertness. Typical applications are coatings for medical devices and as a component in vascular grafts.


Silicone polymers are known for their biocompatibility, flexibility, and resistance to high temperatures. They are used in breast implants, catheters, contact lenses, and various other biomedical devices.


Hydrogels consist of three-dimensional networks of hydrophilic polymers. They have a high water content and exhibit a gel-like consistency similar to biological tissues. They are extensively used in wound dressings, drug delivery systems, and tissue engineering scaffolds. They are covered in more detail below. 

Natural Polymers

Natural polymers, such as collagen and chitosan, are derived from natural sources and offer excellent biocompatibility. Collagen, for instance, is used in tissue engineering and wound healing applications.




Ceramics are characterized by their bioinert or bioactive properties, exhibit excellent biocompatibility, and can mimic the mineral composition of natural bone. They can provide structural support and promote bone regeneration by facilitating the integration of host tissue. Ceramics are widely used in bone grafts, dental implants, and coatings for biomedical devices. Ceramics are brittle and lack flexibility, limiting their use in load-bearing applications where the material is subjected to high mechanical stress or impact. 

The most common types of ceramic biomaterials are listed below.


Hydroxyapatite (HA) is a naturally occurring mineral that is an essential component of bone tissue. Synthetic hydroxyapatite is used in bone grafts, implant coatings, and dental applications due to its excellent biocompatibility and ability to integrate with natural bone.


Alumina (al2o3) is known for its high mechanical strength and wear resistance, and alumina ceramics are used in joint replacement components, dental implants, and other load-bearing applications.


Zirconia (Zr02) is a ceramic material known for its high strength, fracture toughness, and biocompatibility. Typical applications are dental implants, especially in cases where aesthetics and strength are paramount.

Bioactive Glass

Bioactive glass ceramics are composed of calcium silicate, calcium phosphate, or a combination thereof and can bond with living tissue. They are used in bone grafts, tissue engineering scaffolds, and dental applications.

Calcium Phosphates

Calcium phosphates are a family of ceramics that includes tricalcium phosphate (TCP) and biphasic calcium phosphate (BCP). They are used in bone grafts, coatings for implants, and as fillers in dental materials.

Silicon Nitride

Silicon nitride (Si3N4) ceramics are known for high strength, toughness, and resistance to wear, and they are used in joint replacement components and spinal implants.

Titanium Nitride

Titanium Nitride (TiN) is often used as a coating on implants. Titanium nitride provides enhanced surface properties, including improved wear resistance and reduced friction.

Barium Titanate

Barium Titanate (BaTiO3) is a piezoelectric ceramic used in sensors and transducers for medical imaging and diagnostic devices.

Sintered Hydroxyapatite-Tri-calcium Phosphate

Sintered Hydroxyapatite-Tri-calcium Phosphate (HA-TCP) is a composite ceramic material that combines the advantages of both hydroxyapatite and tricalcium phosphate. It is used in bone grafts and coatings for implants.



Composites are a fusion of two or more distinct materials that combine their strengths to yield a new material with superior properties. Composite biomaterials include the amalgamation of polymers and ceramics, metals and polymers, and much more. These material compositions offer strength, flexibility, and biocompatibility improvements, making them valuable across a broad spectrum of applications in life sciences. Composites are used in orthopedic implants, dental restorations, and tissue engineering applications.

Composites possess some challenging characteristics, including the potential for interfacial bonding issues between the different component materials, which could lead to structural weaknesses or reduced performance. The manufacturing processes for composites can also be complex and may lead to higher production costs and challenges in achieving uniform quality. 

The most common types of composite biomaterials are listed below.


Polymer-ceramic composites combine the flexibility and biocompatibility of polymers with the strength and hardness of ceramics. They are widely used in applications like bone grafts, dental restorations, and tissue engineering scaffolds.


Metal-polymer composites combine the strength and durability of metals with the flexibility and versatility of polymers. They are used in load-bearing applications, like orthopedic implants, where a combination of strength and compatibility with biological tissues is critical.


Metal-ceramic composites combine the properties of metals and ceramics, offering a unique combination of strength, biocompatibility, and wear resistance. They find applications in dental restorations and orthopedic implants.

Bioactive Glass-Polymer 

Bioactive Glass-Polymer composites combine bioactive glasses with polymers to create materials that can bond with living tissues. They are used in bone grafts, dental applications, and tissue engineering.


Nanofiber composites incorporate nanoparticles or nanofibers into a polymer matrix to enhance properties like strength, conductivity, or drug delivery capabilities. They are used in advanced medical applications, including tissue engineering and drug delivery systems.

Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Polymers

Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Polymers (CFRPs) are a subset of composite materials with carbon fibers embedded in a polymer matrix. They offer exceptional strength-to-weight ratios and are used in applications like prosthetic limbs and structural components of medical devices.

Glass Fiber-Reinforced Polymers

Like CFRPs, Glass Fiber-Reinforced Polymers (GFRPs) use glass fibers to reinforce a polymer matrix. They are employed in orthopedic braces, dental splints, and other structural components.


Hybrid-reinforced composites incorporate multiple reinforcements, such as combining fibers like carbon and glass with different polymers. They are used in specialized applications that require a unique combination of properties.


Watch our video series about biomedical innovation.



Hydrogels consist of three-dimensional networks of crosslinked hydrophilic polymers. This unique structure facilitates their distinctive ability to absorb and retain significant quantities of water. This gives hydrogels a soft, gel-like consistency akin to biological tissues. Hydrogels can encapsulate and release drugs or bioactive molecules in a controlled and sustained manner. They can also provide a hydrated environment, promoting tissue regeneration and supporting natural healing. Hydrogels are a versatile biomaterial due to their unique structure and range of functional applications across the life sciences. 

Hydrogels are not without their limitations. Their variability of biodegradation rates can be challenging to predict and control, potentially leading to unintended outcomes. Hydrogels also exhibit limitations in terms of mechanical strength, restricting their use in load-bearing applications. It is important to consider these factors when selecting hydrogels for specific biomedical applications to ensure their properties align with the intended therapeutic goals.

The most common types of hydrogel biomaterials are listed below.


Polyacrylamide-based hydrogels are synthesized from acrylamide monomers and are known for their high water absorption capacity. They are used in tissue engineering, drug delivery, and wound healing applications.

Polyvinyl Alcohol 

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) hydrogels are highly biocompatible and have good mechanical strength. They are used in drug delivery systems, wound dressings, and tissue engineering scaffolds.

Polyethylene Glycol

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) hydrogels are known for their excellent biocompatibility and tunable properties. They are used in drug delivery, cell encapsulation, and tissue engineering applications.


Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-based hydrogels (PNIPAAm) exhibit a unique property known as thermoresponsiveness, making them suitable for drug delivery and tissue engineering applications.


Alginate hydrogels are derived from brown algae and form hydrogels when crosslinked with divalent cations like calcium. Alginate hydrogels are used in cell encapsulation, tissue engineering, and wound healing.


Chitosan hydrogels are derived from chitin and are a biocompatible and biodegradable polymer. Chitosan hydrogels are used in wound dressings, tissue engineering, and drug delivery.


Gelatin-based hydrogels are derived from collagen and are biocompatible. They are used in tissue engineering, drug delivery, and 3D cell culture. 

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a natural component of the extracellular matrix. Hyaluronic acid hydrogels are used in tissue engineering, wound healing, and as dermal fillers in cosmetic applications.


Pectin is derived from fruits and is a natural polysaccharide with good biocompatibility. Pectin hydrogels are used in drug delivery, wound healing, and tissue engineering.

Silk Fibroin

Silk fibroin hydrogels are derived from silk. These hydrogels have excellent biocompatibility and mechanical properties. They find applications in tissue engineering, wound healing, and drug delivery.



Nanomaterials are characterized by their minute size and structure. At the nanoscale, these materials often exhibit unique properties that differ from their bulk counterparts. They can be engineered at this scale to provide precise control over physical, chemical, and biological interactions. This provides various functional uses in biomedical applications where nanomaterials can enhance therapeutic efficacy, improve diagnostics, and enable regenerative processes. Nanomaterials are used in drug delivery, medical imaging, biosensing, tissue engineering, and other biomedical applications. 

Nanomaterials are also not without their challenges. As an emerging technology, understanding the complex interactions between nanoparticles and biological systems to ensure biocompatibility is paramount. These requirements, combined with more complex manufacturing processes, can lead to higher costs and challenges in achieving uniform quality. 

The most common types of nanobiomaterials are listed below.


Nanoparticles (NPs) are particles with dimensions at the nanoscale. They can be composed of various materials, including metals, metal oxides, lipids, polymers, and ceramics. Nanoparticles find applications in drug delivery, imaging, diagnostics, and targeted therapy due to their small size and high surface area.

Iron Oxide

Iron oxide nanoparticles are magnetic and are composed of iron oxide cores. They are employed in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), targeted drug delivery, and hyperthermia therapy for cancer treatment.


Silica nanoparticles are composed of silicon dioxide and are known for their biocompatibility and versatility. Silica nanoparticles are used in drug delivery, imaging, and diagnostics.


Polymeric nanoparticles are composed of biocompatible polymers such as PLGA, PEG, and chitosan. They are used in drug delivery applications due to their controlled release capabilities.


Gold nanoparticles exhibit unique optical properties, making them valuable in imaging and diagnostic applications. They are also used in photothermal therapy for cancer treatment.


Nanofibers are ultrafine fibers with diameters at the nanoscale. They can be fabricated from polymers, ceramics, or composites. Nanofibers are extensively used in tissue engineering scaffolds, wound dressings, and drug delivery systems due to their high surface area and resemblance to natural extracellular matrix.

Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are cylindrical structures made of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Carbon nanotubes possess extraordinary mechanical strength and electrical conductivity. They have applications in drug delivery, tissue engineering, and as platforms for biosensors.


Graphene is a single carbon atom layer arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice. Graphene and its derivatives exhibit exceptional electrical, mechanical, and thermal properties. They are used in applications in drug delivery, biosensing, and as scaffolds in tissue engineering.


Nanoliposomes are vesicles composed of lipid bilayers that encapsulate aqueous compartments. They are used as drug delivery vehicles due to their ability to encapsulate both hydrophobic and hydrophilic drugs, enhancing their solubility and stability.

Quantum Dots

Quantum dots (QDs) are semiconductor nanocrystals that exhibit unique optical properties. Quantum dots are used in biological imaging and diagnostics due to their high fluorescence brightness and tunable emission wavelengths.



These common types of biomaterials enable some of the life sciences industry's most innovative devices and therapies. But, the field of life sciences continues to move forward with exciting emerging applications of biomaterials beyond what is currently available today. As scientists and engineers continue to push the boundaries of biomaterials - which we cover in depth in our resource In Depth On Biomaterials in Life Sciences - their contribution to life sciences holds the promise of transformative innovation. Increasingly biomaterials will address unmet patient needs, provide more personalized care, and advance healthcare for patients around the world.


Explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences.


Articles & Resources

Our articles and resources explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences. Together we're advancing biomedical innovation through curiosity and shared knowledge. 


Video Series

Boyd Biomedical Design Stories explores what it takes to commercialize biomedical innovations in a modern susteainable way. A way that's the best way - for patients, practitioners, and all of us - as we seek to advance healthcare together. 


Documentary Film

Project Frontline is a feature length documentary film which tells the inspiring story of collaboration during crisis and is a cautionary tale about our leadership in innovation, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain resilience.