Cambridge, Mass. - September 5, 2012 - A team of experts in mechanics, materials science, and tissue engineering at Harvard have created an extremely stretchy and tough gel that may pave the way to replacing damaged cartilage in human joints.
Called a hydrogel, because its main ingredient is water, the new material is a hybrid of two weak gels that combine to create something much stronger. Not only can this new gel stretch to 21 times its original length, but it is also exceptionally tough, self-healing, and biocompatiblea valuable collection of attributes that opens up new opportunities in medicine and tissue engineering.
The material, its properties, and a simple method of synthesis are described in the September 6 issue of Nature.
"Conventional hydrogels are very weak and brittleimagine a spoon breaking through jelly," explains lead author Jeong-Yun Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). "But because they are water-based and biocompatible, people would like to use them for some very challenging applications like artificial cartilage or spinal disks. For a gel to work in those settings, it has to be able to stretch and expand under compression and tension without breaking."
Sun and his coauthors were led by three faculty members: Zhigang Suo, Allen E. and Marilyn M. Puckett Professor of Mechanics and Materials at SEAS and a Kavli Scholar at the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard; Joost J. Vlassak, Gordon McKay Professor of Materials Engineering and an Area Dean at SEAS; and David J. Mooney, Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
To create the tough new hydrogel, they combined two common polymers. The primary component is polyacrylamide, known for its use in soft contact lenses and as the electrophoresis gel t
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