Surgery involves the repair, resection, replacement, or improvement of body parts and functions and in numerous ways, surgery should be considered human engineering. There are many areas in which surgical materials could be improved, but surgeons are generally unaware of materials available for use, while materials scientists do not know what surgeons require. This article will review some of the areas where surgeons and materials scientists have interacted in the past and will discuss some of the most pressing problems which remain to be solved. These include better implant materials for hernia repair, breast reconstruction, the treatment of diabetes, vascular stenting and reconstruction, and electrical pacing devices. The combination of tissue engineering and nanomaterials has great potential for application to nearly every aspect of surgery. Tissue engineering will allow cells or artificial organs to be grown for specific uses while nanotechnology will help to ensure maximal biocompatibility. Biosensors will be combined with improved electrodes and pacing devices to control impaired neurological functions. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2013, 5:299–319. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1220

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The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.