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Life Sciences & Biomaterials: Overview

American Elements offers a comprehensive range of metals and alloys, chemical compounds, organometallics, and other advanced materials to the applied life and medical sciences markets including biotechnology, medical devices, pharmaceutical, and dental industries.

Pharmaceutical and Drug Delivery

Chemical compounds and organometallics are routinely used as either active or inactive (excipient) pharmaceutical ingredients. Organometallics have been used in cancer therapies and nutrient deficiencies. Cisplatin, a platinum containing compound, and Titanocene Y, a titanium containing compound, are examples of organometallics used in cancer treatment. Cisplatin is used as a platinum-containing chemotherapy drug much like carboplatin and Oxaliplatin. The platinum containing compounds interact with DNA leading to programmed cell death or apoptosis.

Examples of inert excipient compounds include adhesives, capsules, or tablets used in the transport of active pharmaceuticals or nutrition supplements. Colloidal silicon dioxide or fumed silica is used as an excipient in soft gel capsules as a thickening agent. In addition, nanoscale polymers have been used as pharmaceutical or biomolecular vehicles for use in drug delivery and disease treatment. Many pharmaceuticals and chemical compounds used in medical treatments take form as lyophilized powders or nanopowders.

Metal Nanoparticles in the Life Sciences

Metal nanoparticlesGold nanoparticles or colloidal gold have been the focus of research using these particles to deliver therapeutics such as compounds for gene-regulation, high doses of standard pharmaceutical agents, imaging agents, and photo-responsive therapeutics. Targeted drug delivery is of particular valuable for use with pharmaceuticals such as chemotherapy agents, as ideally only the targeted cells will receive high doses of the pharmaceutical, minimizing the damage done to healthy cells and thereby limiting side effects.

Silver nanoparticles have long been known for their antimicrobial properties and are used to coat surfaces to prevent infections. In addition researchers have used silver particles for staining subcellular regions and microscopy studies.

Magnetic nanoparticles are being studied for their applications in medical treatments and diagnostics such as cancer treatment and medical imaging. In one application, ferrous nanoparticles that have been designed to localize to cancer cells are placed in a magnetic field, generating significant heat and killing the targeted cells by localized hyperthermia.

Organic Synthesis

Chemical synthesis of synthetic organic molecules used in research and medicine typically involves a complex series of carefully controlled chemical reactions, often mediated by catalysts. American Elements provides a host of products for use in chemical synthesis and in the preparation of process reactions such as organometallic compounds, reagents, substrates, buffers, and metallic catalysts.

Imaging and Radiotherapy

Fluorescent Markers and Dyes

The fields of imaging and radiotherapy use fluorescent markers and small molecules such as dyes to visualize specified targets such as cells, proteins, or other compounds. These markers are prepared in solution and often involve binding to biomolecular compounds that act to shuttle the markers to in vivo or in vitro targets. Examples of commonly used stains and dyes used for imaging in microscopy include lead acetate, nitrate, tartrate, citrate, lithium carbonate, bismuth nitrate, and indium chloride hydrate.

Stable Isotopes

Stable isotopes are used in nuclear magnetic resonance analyses, magnetic resonance imaging, and spectroscopy and proteomics research. Common products for these applications include carbon, nitrogen and deuterium isotopes.


High Purity Medical Grade Metals and Alloys

High purity medical grade metals and alloys are vital to the biomedical industry. Metals and alloys such as titanium, stainless steel, gold, and silver are routinely used for a number of applications involving medical instrumentation and devices. Titanium, for example, is commonly used in medical implants. Silver is routinely used in dental amalgams, and gold or platinum have been used in eyelid implants.

Antimicrobial Treatments

Both silver and copper have intrinsic antimicrobial properties that are frequently used in medical settings. Copper alloys such as brass are commonly used to prevent microbial growth on frequently touched metal objects such as doorknobs in hospitals, while increasingly silver coatings or embedded silver nanoparticles are used on surgical instruments and various medical consumables.

Laser Therapy

Solid-state lasers utilizing specialized crystalline materials as gain media are routinely used in dermatological procedures in addition to other noninvasive medical procedures.

Medical devices and diagnostic equipment

Diagnostic equipment used to measure metabolites, muscle or brain activity generally rely on metal, ceramic and alloy components for a number of their functions and features. Circuits, electrodes, tubing, surfaces and insulators make up some of the components currently incorporating these materials.

Thin film and disolvable batteries

Thin film batteries provide flexibility in size and shape enabling convenient incorporation into devices. The batteries have applications in numerous medical products such as implantable devices and wireless diagnostics. Lithium ion thin film battery technology has proven robust performance and reliability in pacemakers, defibrillators, and neural stimulators.

In addition, recent studies in biomedical engineering are testing the use of biodegradable batteries and medical devices. Several applications for dissolvable technologies include injectable or ingestible medical devices, drug delivery devices and semi-permanent implants. Dissolvable batteries and devices can reduce exposure of living tissues to toxicity from alternative non-biodegradable devices.

Low cost portable consumer devices, imaging and ultrasound systems

Portable biomedical devices and sensors coupled with software and mobile applications are finding uses as consumer products including measuring vital signs, blood glucose, stress levels, sleep and more. Furthermore, portable point of care devices and diagnostics such as ultrasounds and imaging systems are being developed by major consumer products firms. For example, General Electric and a number of other manufacturers are marketing portable sonography devices. Wire-free portable devices require smaller components and materials with flexible properties. Device casings, screens, screen coatings, device circuitry, and/or tubing typically incorporate metals, alloys, and ceramic materials. New research in the field of sonography is investigating new materials or metamaterials for improving image quality derived from ultrasound procedures. In another exemplary application, a wearable electronic skin device comprised of titanium-gold particles is used to store data and deliver drugs to a patient.


Dental X-Rays Numerous biomaterials are applied in dental procedures and in craniofacial tissue engineering and reconstruction. Examples of such applications are found in dental amalgams, degradable implants, and skeletal tissue reconstruction. Dental amalgams are dental filling materials used to fill cavities where tooth decay has occurred. Magnesium alloys have recently been tested as a potential biomaterial for degradable implants such as craniofacial screws. Hydroxyapatite cement is used as a biomaterial for craniofacial skeletal tissue reconstruction.

American Elements has a history of providing solutions for the dental industry and continues to deliver high quality products while supporting innovation and discovery in the dental healthcare market.


Contact lenses

Traditional contact lenses are made of gas permeable, flexible materials such as silicone or acrylic materials. With the advancement of thin film transistors and flexible electronics, one potential application could be for "smart" lenses.

Glaucoma management

Glaucoma is frequently an age-related disease leading to increase pressure and fluid buildup in the eye due to the breakdown of tissue that is responsible for regulating eye fluid drainage. Recent work in glaucoma treatment at UCLA is focused on using nanodiamonds for delivering the glaucoma drug timolol maleate to the target site.

Metallic alloy stents for heart patients


Stents are mesh tubes used as implants to treat narrow or weak arteries. Materials such as gold, tantalum, Nickel Titanium Alloy, silicone, and polymers including polyesters, polyorthoesters and polyanhydrides have been used for stents. Titanium based stents are commonly used in angioplasty procedures.

Sensors, Biochips, MEMs

Biological sensors include sensors capable of detecting biomolecular analytes such as cells, protein, and nucleic acids. Both in vivo and vitro applications utilize biosensor technologies. Biosensors have vast uses in clinical medicine, diagnostics, defense, environmental studies. These technologies present opportunities to perform sophisticated analyses with relatively low cost and small volumes of sample materials. A variety of technologies are available for biosensing including biochips, microfluidics devices, and microreactors.

Biochip or lab-on-a-chip technologies (also known as microarrays) are high throughput tools that enable studying thousands of biomolecular or small molecule interactions on a single surface. Surface coated or functionalized glass slides are frequently used for biochip applications. Researchers are now using the tool to discover new drugs, diagnose illness, identify biomarkers, capture cells, and analyze the proteome. Common lab-on-chip technologies incorporate fluorescence tagging to quantify binding events depending on the specific biomolecular interaction is being studied.

Biological microelectromechanical systems or Bio-MEMS are small devices in the 20-1000 micrometer range often comprising individual components. The study of BIO-MEMS involves several areas of research and development. One area is concerned with microfabrication technologies suitable for biological systems others include the application of Bio-MEMS in clinical medicine where studies have concentrated on the use of microneedles, microsensors, microreactors and microelectrodes.

Regenerative Medicine

The field of regenerative medicine is developing new methods that apply materials for grafts, skin repair, tissue engineering, artificial tendons, cartilage, and bone. Bone repair commonly involves screws, plates, or temporary stabilizers that can include stainless steel or titanium screws and hydroxyapatite or tricalcium phosphate for bone repair. Nanocomposites such as cellulose nanofiber based composites are being investigated for use as artificial tendons and ligaments. Polymers matrix nanocomposites are also being tested for tissue repair, skin repair, and tissue engineering applications.

Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Safety

Food additives include food grade compounds such as acids, emulsifiers, humectants, flavor enhancers, color retention agents, sweeteners, nutritional additives, anti-caking agents, vitamins, dairy ingredients, chelates and other chemical compounds or organometallics. Chelates and anti-caking agents manufactuted by American Elements include calcium disodium EDTA, magnesium disodium EDTA, sodium aluminosilicate, sodium ferrocyanide, and potassium ferrocyanide.

Of particular importance to industries such as agriculture, environmental remediation involving monitoring and removal of heavy metals and other pollutants from water and soil routinely uses compounds including stable isotopes, precious metal catalysts, metal oxide nanoparticles, porous and mesoporous materials, and metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). For example, petroleum contamination remediation may involve using activated carbon, porous carbon and carbon based nanomaterials in addition to other chemical reagents and filters to decrease groundwater contamination. Additionally, mesoporous silica and surfactants are routinely used in aquifer or water remediation.


Biocompatible prosthetic knee joint

Biomaterials are defined as substances or materials used in contact with components of biological systems. A wide range of therapeutic and diagnostics procedures use biomaterials which have enabled the development of advanced tools for medical and biotechnological use. The field of biomaterials engineering incorporates physics, chemical and biological sciences to develop tools with applications to chronic diseases, diagnostics, therapeutics, implantable devices, drug delivery systems, tissue engineering, cell engineering, and bionanotechnology. Types of biomaterials include metals, alloys, ceramics, composites, and polymers.

Material Classes

Benign vs. Bioactive materials

Benign materials are inert or nearly inert and thus do not react with biological materials. Benign materials are ideal for uses where reaction with the biological system is not desired and the biomaterial serves a benign function, as in the case of a heart valve. Other examples of benign biomaterials include replacement joints, dental implants, and surgical instruments.

Bioactive materials are designed to have more interactive functionality where they may react with biological systems. Examples of bioactive materials include scaffolds for cell delivery, engraftment, or delivery vehicles used in controlled delivery of therapeutics.


Hydroxyapatite is a durable bioceramic similar to the naturally occurring mineral component found in bone and teeth. The compound is a calcium phosphate ceramic and is classified as bioactive in its function to support bone ingrowth and osseo-integration in orthopedic, dental and craniofacial applications.

Tricalcium phosphate ceramics are being tested for use as synthetic bone substitutes. The resorbable property of calcium phosphate is ideal in acting as temporary bone filler which dissolves over time to be replaced by natural bone.


Zirconium oxide has a high melting point, strength and thermal stability making it useful in dentistry applications such as manufacturing corona and bridge frames, tooth root studs, and metal free dental implants.

Aluminum oxide or alumina has been implemented in dental restoration procedures including coating the outside surface of dental porcelain crowns.

Recent studies have found that magnesium oxide particle exhibit desirable properties for orthopedic tissue engineering. Additionally findings report improved fibroblast and osteoblast cellular attachment and subsequent growth on poly lactic acid in the presence of magnesium oxide particles.

Bioactive silica glass-ceramics bond to bone and are finding use in orthopedic applications. Researchers have found that mesoporous silica films serve as coatings on medical prostheses and implants. Another recent study has reported the use of sol-gel silica biomaterials for use bone tissue regeneration and in drug delivery systems.

Metals and Alloys

Titanium Mesh for medical applicationsTitanium metal is biocompatible and shows high corrosion resistance. Due to these beneficial properties, titanium is used in total joint replacement, dental implants, plates and screws. Metallic debris and higher risks of infection are often seen in tissue surrounding titanium implants. A variety of coatings and additives are being studied to reduce infection associated with titanium implants. Recent studies show its utility in bone implants as a powder in conjunction with hydroxyapatite and other compounds for bone restoration procedures.

Titanium alloys are often used in joint and bone implants. Their durability and flexibility make them ideal for implants such as stents. Due to their biomechanical compatibility titanium alloys are often used for femoral stems in hip prostheses. A common titanium alloy used in implants is titanium aluminum vanadium alloy (Ti6Al4V). The coating of titanium alloys is an active area of study due to surface wearing and friction factors. Titanium nitride is one such coating that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Silver alloys such as silver-gold, silver-copper, and silver-tin are routinely used in dental amalgams to fill cavities formed by tooth decay or broken teeth. Dental amalgam is often a self-hardening mixture of silver-tin-copper alloy powder and liquid mercury.

Cobalt alloys provide high strength properties and are used in dental and orthopedic applications. For example, cobalt-chromium-molybdenum (CoCrMo) alloy is commonly used for total joint arthroplasty. Other cobalt-based alloys such as cobalt-nickel-chrome-molybdenum alloy and wrought cobalt-chromium-tungsten-nickel-alloy are employed as materials in prosthetic and orthotic surgical implants.

Stainless steels used in biomedical applications are known as surgical stainless steel with reference to specific grades of stainless steel that display high levels of corrosion resistance. All steels are alloys of iron, carbon, and other elements; surgical stainless steel in particular contains chromium, nickel and molybdenum, which together lend characteristics such as high resistance to oxidation and surface scratches (from chromium), an even and polished finish (from nickel), and increased hardness with the ability to sustain a cutting edge (from molybdenum). Surgical steel is also easy to sterilize, making it an ideal material for medical instruments. Surgical implants and equipment that experience mechanical pressure such as bone fixation screws and prostheses are other examples of applications for stainless steels.

Magnesium alloys such as magnesium aluminum zinc are commonly used in implanted screws and plates that degrade in vivo.

Platinum and its alloys are stable at ambient temperatures and display resistance to corrosion and oxidation even when heated. Therefore, the metal and its alloys are used in a variety of surgical instruments.

Gold is resistant to corrosion and tarnishing and its alloys are commonly used in restorative dentistry, and more advanced medical applications.


Ceramic and metallic composite (cermet) materials are utilized in applications requiring high temperature resistance and hardness in combination with ductility and compressibility. These properties in addition to biocompatibility make cermets particularly useful for surgical implants including bone implants and hip replacements components. Alumina, zirconia, calcium phosphate and glass ceramics are commonly found in biomaterials used for components of replacement joints.


Advancements in biomedical research have enabled the use of nanoparticles and material compounds comprised of gold, silver, and magnetic iron oxide for numerous applications such as targeted delivery of pharmaceuticals to tissues.

Magnetic nanoparticles are being studied for their applications in medical treatments and diagnostics such as cancer treatment and medical imaging. In one application, ferrous nanoparticles placed in a magnetic field generate significant heat, thereby killing cancer cells by localized hyperthermia. Additionally magnetic nanoparticles are being used in anesthetic procedures and other drug delivery procedures.

Gold nanoparticles or colloidal gold have been the focus of therapeutics research involving the use of gold compounds for gene-regulation, drug delivery structures, imaging agents and photoresponsive therapeutics.

Silver nanoparticles are commonly used to coat surfaces requiring antimicrobial resistance.

Surface functionalized nanomaterials such as drug coated- polymers, powders, and other porous materials are being studied for their applications in injectable or ingestible pharmaceuticals.

Ruthenium Metal Complexes

Ruthenium is a rare transition metal which forms metal organic complexes that have been studied for its applications as a fluorescent probe in biological imaging. Ruthenium-rhodamine is one example of a metal complex used as a fluorescent probe. Ruthenium complexes are also used as stains in electron microscopy studies. For example, ruthenium red is used as a tissue stain in histology research such as identifying amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. Ruthenium complexes are also being studied for their anti-cancer properties. In particular these complexes appear to be more aggressive against cancers for which platinum based compounds have been ineffective. In addition, ruthenium compounds can be transported by proteins containing nitrogen and sulfur. For example, ruthenium complexes can be transported to transferring receptors by binding to transferrin, making them ideal for targeted drug delivery to cancer cells expressing high levels of these receptors.

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American Elements manufactures a comprehensive catalog of high purity materials for the field of life sciences. We produce materials in various grades including ACS, Reagent and Technical Grade; Food, Agricultural and Pharmaceutical Grade; Optical Grade, USP and EP/BP (European Pharmacopoeia/British Pharmacopoeia) and follow all applicable ASTM testing standards. Materials can be manufactured customer specifications for particle size, purity, and composition in all amounts including bulk quantities. Our offerings include metals and alloys, chemical compounds, organometallics, ceramics, nanoparticles, and other advanced materials.