The discovery of several unexpected complex biological roles of hyaluronic acid (HA) has promoted new research impetus for biologists and, the clinical interest in several fields of medicine, such as ophthalmology, articular pathologies, cutaneous repair, skin remodeling, vascular prosthesis, adipose tissue engineering, nerve reconstruction and cancer therapy. In addition, the great potential of HA in medicine has stimulated the interest of pharmaceutical companies which, by means of new technologies can produce HA and several new derivatives in order to increase both the residence time in a variety of human tissues and the anti-inflammatory properties. Minor chemical modifications of the molecule, such as the esterification with benzyl alcohol (Hyaff-11®
biomaterials), have made possible the production of water-insoluble polymers that have been manufactured in various forms: membranes, gauzes, nonwoven meshes, gels, tubes. All these biomaterials are used as wound-covering, anti-adhesive devices and as scaffolds for tissue engineering, such as epidermis, dermis, micro-vascularized skin, cartilage and bone. In this review, the essential biological functions of HA and the applications of its derivatives for pharmaceutical and tissue regeneration purposes are reviewed.
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