Highly absorbent hydrogels, used in medical and bioengineering applications, tend to be flexible, but also brittle and not very stretchable. A team of engineering and materials science researchers from Harvard University, Seoul National University, and Duke University has invented a set of tough, synthetic hydrogels that can be stretched up to 21 times their length and still recover.
Used to make scaffolds for tissue engineering, as well as drug delivery vehicles, hydrogels absorb as much as 99.9 percent water and are made of natural or synthetic polymers. They are used in biology research and medical applications because their high water content makes them flexible, like living tissue.
A new flexible, self-healing hydrogel that could replace cartilage can be stretched it to 21 times its length before breaking. (Source: Jeong-Yun Sun/Harvard University)
In an article published in Nature (subscription or payment required), the researchers say they synthesized their new materials from polymers that form ionically and covalently crosslinked networks. The new hybrid hydrogels were formed of alginate and polacrylamide, and contain about 90 percent water. Although some elastic hydrogels have stretched to between 10 and 20 times their length, samples that contained notches or other deformations stretched much less. When containing notches, the new materials stretch up to 17 times their length, and notches remain stable. (Watch a video of the notched material stretching here.)
The new hydrogels have a fracture energy of about ~9,000 J m-2, compared to ~10 J m-2 for most hydrogels and ~1,000 J m-2 for cartilage. The researchers say:
We attribute the gels' toughness to the synergy of two mechanisms: crack bridging by the network of covalent crosslinks, and hysteresis by unzipping the network of ionic crosslinks. Furthermore, the network of covalent crosslinks preserves the memory of the initial state, so that much of the large deformation is removed on unloading. The unzipped ionic crosslinks cause internal damage, which heals by re-zipping.
(Watch a video of a large, recoverable deformation formed by a metal ball dropping on a membrane of the gel here.)
Because the new gels are tough, self-healing, biocompatible, and flexible, they could be used as replacements for human cartilage, in soft robotics, as artificial muscles, or as a protective covering for wounds. Different combinations of weak and strong molecular integration could make hybrid hydrogels with different sets of characteristics.
The research team included Jeong-Yun Sun of Harvard University and Seoul National University; Widusha R. K. Illeperuma, Ovijit Chaudhuri, David J. Mooney, Joost J. Vlassak, and Zhigang Suo of Harvard University; Kyu Hwan Oh of Seoul National University; and Xuanhe Zhao of Duke University.
Mydesign, I knew the cost of surgery is much lower in non-Western countries, but that's hugely less. And the cost for magnetic therapy looks a lot higher than here (at least the last time I checked several years ago).
"You're right, surgery is the only proven method of treating cartilage problems. Too bad it's so expensive."
Ann, in my country knee replace surgeries are cheaper when compare with the magnetic therapy for cartilage regeneration. A complete single knee replacement cost you less than $3000. At the same time for magnetic therapy they are charging $500-600 per sitting and it require minimum of 6-9 sittings.
As a person with an ACL replacement (1988) and subsequent wear damage to the meniscus and surrounding cartilage, I can only hope this material is approved for surgical applications within the next few years.
Mydesign, I looked into various forms of magnetic "healing" back in the 1990s. Some alternative medicine methods actually work, sometimes or even a lot of the time. But so-called magnetic therapy is just a false claim. You're right, surgery is the only proven method of treating cartilage problems. Too bad it's so expensive.
Ann, as of now knee replacement surgery is the only proven and effective treatment for cartilage wear & tear. Ofcource there are some treatments in alternative medicines like Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Magnetic therapy etc. But such treatments are not widely accepted and even not medically proven. They will first do the treatment for pain management and for most of the patients that's enough to get relief.
Charles, they are clamming that more than 90% of cartilages can regenerate through magnetic therapy within 6-9 months. Moreover, they had shown me some of the cases of their old patients. But when I check with other medical professionals, they said, it's a like a form of alternate medicine and so far it's not medically proven. Bit confusing!!
bobj, glad you liked the article. I hope you were doing all that running on earth, not concrete. This technology is very much in its infancy, as are most of the discoveries I write on reported by universities, instead of commercial companies. That said, hydrogels as a class have a history as cartilage replacements already, so the timeline might be shorter than "normal," if there is such a thing. I guess growing up in Silicon Valley makes me appreciative of Heiseneberg. Anyway, I also have hip issues, although so far only in winter.
The 100-percent solar-powered Solar Impulse plane flies on a piloted, cross-country flight this summer over the US as a prelude to the longer, round-the-world flight by its successor aircraft planned for 2015.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.