It has been 30 years since a professor in NC State’s College of Textiles created the first artificial artery. Today, the college can’t train graduates fast enough for the growing and highly specialized medical and biotextiles industry. As U.S. textile companies struggle with foreign competition in their traditional markets, the college is continuing to expand its educational focus to the industry’s more innovative, higher value-added products and technologies.

Dr. Martin King, is a professor of textiles at NC State and a leading expert in biotextiles. He defines the term “biotextiles” to include structures composed of textile fibers designed for use in specific biological environments where their performance depends on biocompatibility and biostability with cells and biological fluids. Biotextiles include devices implanted in the body, such as surgical sutures, hernia repair fabrics, arterial grafts, artificial skin, and parts of artificial hearts.

 Medical textiles, on the other hand, include everything from bandages, wound dressings, and splints to orthotic devices and clothing used for rehabilitation. Hospital linens, barrier fabrics, protective clothing, and operating room scrubs are also medical textile products.

With the surge of new textile products in such a highly regulated environment, companies like 3M, Johnson and Johnson, and Becton-Dickinson are looking for graduates with textile and medical knowledge to manage their supply chains. “Pharmaceutical companies also have this need now that biotextile devices and drugs are becoming one and the same in things like contraceptive patches,” says King. “The recruiters all seem to have my phone number.”

The College of Textiles now offers an M.S. degree concentration in biomedical textiles, as well as college-wide biomedical concentrations in all four of its undergraduate degree programs. “These tracks will enable students to focus on medical textiles regardless of whether they are registered in textile technology, textile chemistry, textile engineering, or textile and apparel management,” explains King, who is responsible for the undergraduate program. “That makes NC State unique.”

The biomedical textile programs build on existing biomedical engineering curricula at NC State, and provide students a broad grounding in biology and chemistry. Working with faculty in the college’s extensive biomedical textile research program, graduate students frequently find themselves collaborating with researchers in engineering, veterinary medicine, or medical schools at other universities. “Biocompatibility will improve in the future because implants will be engineered from human cells grown on textile ‘scaffolds,’” says King. “So multidisciplinary teams will be our hallmark.”