Engineers at the University of Akron are working towards new medical uses for hydrogel materials. The tough but flexible materials show real promise in areas such as cartilage repair and implants, according to a report in Science Daily about the two engineers' work.
Simpler production is key
One of the current barriers to using hydrogels is the series of many steps generally associated with their production. Associate professor Dr. Jie Zheng and professor Robert Weiss of the University of Akron sought to devise a "one-pot method," Science Daily reports, to create hydrogels composed of two networks of polymer chains. The researchers wanted to create one network that was rigid and a second that was ductile. Zheng succeeded in doing so, also creating a tougher hydrogel in the process. This added toughness is a real advantage, because most hydrogels are weak and brittle, "suffering form low mechanical strength, poor toughness, and/or limited extensibility and recoverability," Zheng told Science Daily. Weiss' work has contributed hydrogels that exhibit shape memory, a useful characteristic for biomedical applications. Weiss speculates that this attribute will be useful in minimally invasive procedures, since a hydrogel device can be inserted and then returned to an appropriate shape that it "remembers." You can read the full article on these new hydrogels here.