|The Weird World of Hydrogels: How They’ll Change Health Care
Imagine a day when a simple injection prompts a broken bone to heal. When tiny, ingestible devices linger in the body, unnoticed, tracking our health or delivering life-saving medications. When brain and heart implants mesh with flesh so seamlessly that the body thinks they’ve been there all along.Get more news about factory direct sale medical hydrogel wholesaler,you can vist our website!
These are the dreams of materials scientists who have toiled for decades to mimic the complex architecture of the human body in hopes of replacing broken parts or treating disease.
The problem, say bioengineers, is that most replacement and corrective parts – from prosthetics to pacemakers – are made of hard, dry, lifeless materials, like metal or plastic, while biological tissue is soft, wet, and living.
First described in 1960 by creators of soft contact lenses, these weird, shape-shifting substances are able to morph from liquid to solid to a squishy in-between. (Early, simple uses include hair gel or Jell-O.). Slow to gain attention, growing to just 1,000 studies published by 1982, they’ve become the subject of intense study recently, with 100,000 papers total published by 2020, and 3,800 already this year alone.
As chemists, biologists, and engineers begin to work more with one another and with medical doctors, the burgeoning hydrogel field is poised to transform the way we take medication and treat worn-out joints and pave the way for a seemingly sci-fi future in which organs, including brains, can interact directly with machines.
“We are, essentially, hydrogels,” said Benjamin Wiley, PhD, a chemistry professor at Duke University in Durham, NC. “As people develop new hydrogels that more closely match the tissues in our body, we’ll be able to treat a whole host of ailments we couldn’t treat before.”
The mesh is made of polymers, or spaghetti-like strands of molecules, stitched together in a repeating pattern and swollen with H2O, much like the way 3D matrixes in our body surround, support, and give structure to our cells and tissues.
“Imagine a soccer net, with all of these long fibers woven together to create the net,” said Eric Appel, PhD, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University.
While the broader category of “gels” could be filled with anything, including chemical solvents, water is the key ingredient that sets hydrogels apart, making them ideal for, as some scientists put it, “merging humans and machines.”
Human bones are about 25% water, while muscles hover around 70% and the brain is 85%. The precious liquid plays a host of critical roles, from shuttling nutrients in and waste out to helping cells talk to each other. |