Periosteum is a tissue fabric layer on the outside of bone, as seen in the upper diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The natural weave of elastin (green) and collagen (yellow) are evident when viewed under the microscope. Elastin gives periosteum its stretchy properties and collagen imparts toughness. Muscle is organized into fiber bundles, observed as round structures in the lower diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The volume is approximately 200×200 µm (width×height)×25 µm deep. (Credit: Melissa Knothe Tate/UNSW).

For the first time, engineers have woven a “smart” fabric that mimics the sophisticated and complex properties of the bone tissue periosteum. Having achieved proof of concept, the researchers are now ready to produce fabric prototypes for a range of advanced functional materials. Potential applications include intelligent compression bandages for deep-vein thrombosis that respond to the wearer's movement.

Many animal and plant tissues exhibit ‘smart’ and adaptive properties. One such material is the periosteum, a soft tissue sleeve that envelops most bony surfaces in the body. The complex arrangement of collagen, elastin, and other structural proteins gives periosteum amazing resilience and provides bones with added strength under high impact loads.

Until now, a lack of scalable bottom-up approaches (building up from most basic elements) by researchers has stymied their ability to use smart tissues to create advanced functional materials. The research team mapped the complex tissue architectures of the periosteum, visualized them in 3D on a computer, and scaled up the key components and produced prototypes using weaving loom technology. The result is a series of textile swatch prototypes that mimic periosteum’s smart stress-strain properties.

Computer modelling allowed the researchers to scale up nature’s architectural patterns to weave periosteum-inspired, multidimensional fabrics using a state-of-the-art computer-controlled jacquard loom. The team is ultimately focused on weaving biological tissues in order to develop and commercialize prototype bone implants for preclinical research within three years.