University of Delaware scientists have invented a novel biomaterial with surprising antibacterial properties that can be injected as a low-viscosity gel into a wound where it rigidifies nearly on contact--opening the door to the possibility of delivering a targeted payload of cells and antibiotics to repair the damaged tissue.
Regenerating healthy tissue in a cancer-ridden liver, healing a biopsy site and providing wounded soldiers in battle with pain-killing, infection-fighting medical treatment are among the myriad uses the scientists foresee for the new technology.
The patented invention by Joel Schneider, UD associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Darrin Pochan, associate professor of materials science, and their research groups marks a major step forward in the development of hydrogels for medical applications.
Formulating hydrogels as delivery vehicles for cells extends the uses of these biopolymers far beyond soft-contact lenses into an intriguing realm once viewed as the domain of science fiction, including growing bones and organs to replace those that are diseased or injured.
This is an area that will be exploding over the next decade, Pochan said.
Hydrogels are formed from networks of super-absorbent, chain-like polymers. Although they are not soluble in water, they soak up large amounts of it, and their porous structure allows nutrients and cell wastes to pass right through them.
Schneider and Pochan and their research teams have been focusing on developing peptide-based hydrogels that, once implanted in the human body, will become scaffolds for cells to hold onto and grow--cells such as fibroblasts, which form connective tissue, and osteoblasts, which form bone.
They're like rebar when you're building something with concrete, Schneider said. They give the cement something to hang onto.