New Smart Material Could Help Treat Wounds and Fight Cancer
Matthew Greenwood posted on March 12, 2019 |

Researchers from Syracuse University have developed a new material that can change shape within the body, paving the way for significant advances in the medical field.

The material is a new kind of shape memory polymer (SMP). SMPs are soft materials that can change shape in response to external stimuli like temperature changes or exposure to light—and can hold each shape indefinitely and revert back to their original shape when triggered to do so.

SMPs have the potential to be highly useful in the medical field. For example, they can function as cardiovascular stents, taking one shape to facilitate surgical implantation and then changing to another once they are in the blood vessel. The shape change is triggered by just the warmth of a patient’s body.

Programmable materials: shape-memory polymers.

The new SMP, developed in collaboration with researchers at Bucknell University, can change its shape in the presence of certain enzymes as well as can interact safely with living cells. These properties allow it to respond to specific cellular activity.

“You could place it over a wound, and as the tissue remodeled and degraded it, the SMP would slowly pull the wound closed,” said biomedical engineering doctoral candidate Shelby L. Buffington. “It could be adapted to play a role in treating infections and cancer by adjusting the material’s chemistry.”

To create the material, researchers used a process called electrospinning, in which a high-voltage current is applied to two needle tips pumping two different polymer solutions. The electricity draws out the polymer fibers, which are blended into a sheet. The combination of fibers determines the material’s shape memory capabilities.

The team then analyzed and tested the material’s properties, shape memory performance and compatibility with living cells—successfully demonstrating the SMP’s ability to function within a living body.

The next step for the team is to study how the material performs when it’s exposed to cancer and microphage cells. The scientists hope to uncover practical uses for their material using lower concentrations of enzymes that are produced by less extreme cellular activity.

“We’re very excited to have achieved these first enzymatically responsive SMPs,” said Professor James H. Henderson, who believes the material could be used in drugs that only activate when the target cells or organ are in a certain state, in scaffolds that direct tissue regeneration, and in decision-making biosensors that could guide patient treatment more effectively.

The new SMP could give doctors a versatile new tool for treating patients. “We anticipate that the materials we’re developing could have broad application in health care,” said Henderson.

Read more about the latest in medical technology at Medical 3D Printing: Where Are We Now?

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