The self-healing and elasticity of this gel is pretty amazing. I would have liked to have this as a commercialized option for my dog who in the last two years went through two separate surgeries to repair the doggie equivalent of a torn ACL.
What's amazing to me about these hydrogels is their damage tolerance. The ability to stretch a polymeric material many times its original length is not all that noteworthy, but the ability to stretch a polymeric material with a notch in it many times its original length is totally incredible.
Understanding the mechanisms behind the toughness and damage tolerance of these hydrogels could lead to the development of tough polymers for all kinds of applications.
With regard to cartilage replacement, biocompatibility may be a hurdle. One of the biggest difficulties with cartilage replacement therapies to date has been the body rejecting the new cartilage (even when it has been grown in the lab from the patient's own cells).
Dave, I agree. I found the technical discussion a bit dense, but the ability to stretch and recover, notch or no notch, is apparently due to a mix of strong and weak molecular integration and the (resulting?) crosslinked networks.
Ann, I'll ask a question that I've asked before, but in a slightly broader way. All of this surprising new technology -- are these developments accelerating, or does it just seem that way because you're shining a light in a lot of disparate corners? It sure seems there's a flood of shocking advancements in medical and robotics.
We're several years aay from knee replacements. I'm not sure if even Baby Boomers will benefit from this on a large scale. I haven't read anything about computer trails or even animal testing yet.
The fact that two relatively weak hydrogels were combined to create something amazing and strong is another lesson for many. Finding the right combination in the right scale is, very often, the key to innovation.
Rob, I think it's both: I do like finding obscure but weird and potentially earth-shaking developments in technology of several kinds. It's also true that we have more researchers now than ever before in many different disciplines, countries and cultures, working on many different solutions to many different problems. Humans have been ingenious creatures for hundreds of millenia: these advances aren't nearly as earth-shattering and shocking as the first sentences, or the first tools, or the first wheels.
This is amazing and sorely needed. For some young patients who have had a lot of cartilage removed, the only other alternative to is to use cadaver cartilage or an artificial knee. One of my college-age sons is now in this situation. If there was an artificial alternative that wouldn't be rejected by the body, it would be a godsend.
Charles, now there are some magnetic therapy treatments are available for regeneration of cartilages. I know some of the patient who had undergone the treatment and feels better. But so far it is not proved or accepted by any medical council.
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!!
Ann, that's a new and interesting technology. Most of the old peoples have severe pain in their knees due to the wear and tear in cartilages around and beneath the knee cap. Any idea how we can apply this to the knee.
Ann, I had done a bit research for my mother having the same problem. She has some wear and tear in her knee cartilage and doctors advising us for a complete knee replacement. We are looking for some alternate therapy, which can regenerate the cartilages. Eventhough many are clamming that it can be regenerate, but so far nothing is medically proven.
Mydesign, replacement knee surgery is not a sure thing re results, not at all guaranteed, can cause a lot of problems and is insanely expensive: at least half the cost of a low-end car. Otherwise I would have done it by now. Also, most replacement knee implants/structures are engineered for men, not women. But you probably know all that. Meanwhile, any claims of technologies that regrow cartilage are, AFAIK, untrue.
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.
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.
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.
Ann, I hope you do get a better knee joint soon. This polymer has great potential in medical and mechanical engineering areas. Having suffered a back surgery to a blown disc, I too, would welcome a full-sized replacement in my vertebrae. I hope the trials go well with this stuff. The body likes to attack and dissolve foreign objects (mostly for good reason) so I hope this substance proves to be as compatible as it is durable.
"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.
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).
I wonder if anyone is working on a substance that could contract to a fraction of its original length, simulating a muscular contraction. If such a substance could be interfaced with nerves it could replace lost muscles and limbs -- and think of the possibilities for robotics without motors.
Years ago, 35 to be exact, my wife and I enjoyed running-10Ks mostly. Well, father time has put an end to that activity but the "remains of the day" linger. I have real problems with my right hip and right knee. Hip replacement surgery has been recommended but I have put it off for several months due to schedule and the fact that I'm 168 pounds of rompin stompin coward. I talked with my doctor about repairing the cartilage in the joint but he tells me the repair, if possible at all, would be considerably worse than the replacement. With that being the case, Ann do you have a time-line for commercialization of the hydrogels or is this technology in its infancy--tried but unproven? Great article also.
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.
NIST's new five-year strategic plan for its Material Measurement Laboratory lists additive manufacturing materials development as one of the main areas it will support by developing measurements, data, techniques, and models.
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