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Gel mimics biological regeneration

Engineers responsible for devising the substance were inspired by biological processes in amphibians

December 06, 2013

Researchers investigated tissue regeneration in amphibians 

Researchers in the US have taken the first steps towards developing composite materials that can regenerate when severely damaged.

Engineers at the University of Pittsburgh have devised a polymer gel that contains ‘nanorods’ and mimics the regenerative biological processes seen in some animals. 

When part of the gel is severed, the nanorods near the cut act as sensors and migrate to the new interface. They then trigger a polymerisation reaction within the gel, which fixes the cut. 

Dr Anna Balazs, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and the project leader at the University of Pittsburgh, said: “This is one of the holy grails of materials science. While others have developed materials that can mend small defects, there is no research regarding systems that can regenerate bulk sections of a severed material.”

The research team was inspired by biological processes in species such as amphibians, which can regenerate severed limbs. This type of tissue regeneration is guided by three instruction sets – initiation, propagation, and termination. 

Dr Balazs said: “When we looked at the biological processes behind tissue regeneration in amphibians, we considered how we would replicate that dynamic cascade in a synthetic material. We needed to develop a system that would sense the removal of material and initiate regrowth, then propagate that growth until the material reached the desired size, and then self-terminate the process.”

The researchers now plan to improve the process and strengthen the bonds between the old and new gels, and to further optimise the process to grow multiple layers, creating more complex materials with multiple functions.
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