Known as ‘nano-rubber’, the material “has the potential to make a big difference to many people’s lives”, according to its creators at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
There is a big demand for new ‘naturalistic’ materials suitable for use within the body, and introducing materials comes with risks such as serious infections. Some substances used today, such as Botox, are toxic.
In the new study, the researchers developed a material consisting solely of components that have already been shown to work well in the body. The foundation of the material is the same as plexiglass, which is common in medical technology applications. Through redesigning its make-up and using a process called nano-structuring, the researchers claimed to have achieved a “unique” combination of properties in the newly-patented material.
The initial intention has been to produce a hard, bone-like material, but they were met with surprising results.
“We were really surprised that the material turned to be very soft, flexible and extremely elastic. It would not work as a bone replacement material, we concluded. But the new and unexpected properties made our discovery just as exciting,” said materials scientist Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, one of the researchers behind the study.
Results showed the new rubber-like material could be appropriate for many applications which require an uncommon combination of properties – high elasticity, easy processability, and suitability for medical uses.
“The first application we are looking at now is urinary catheters. The material can be constructed in such a way that prevents bacteria from growing on the surface, meaning it is very well suited for medical uses,” said research leader Professor Martin Andersson.
The structure of the nano-rubber allows its surface to be treated so that it becomes antibacterial in a natural, non-toxic way. This is achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides – small proteins which are part of our innate immune system – onto its surface. This can help reduce the need for antibiotics, a potentially important contribution to the fight against growing antibiotic resistance.
Because the new material can be injected and inserted via keyhole surgery, it could also help reduce the need for drastic surgery and operations to rebuild parts of the body. The material can be injected as a viscous fluid, so that it forms its own elastic structures within the body. It could also be 3D-printed into specific structures as required.
“There are many diseases where the cartilage breaks down and friction results between bones, causing great pain for the affected person. This material could potentially act as a replacement in those cases,” said Professor Andersson continues.
The material also contains three-dimensionally ordered nanopores, meaning it could be loaded with medicine for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation. This might allow for localised treatment – avoiding, for example, having to treat the entire body with drugs, something that could help reduce problems associated with side effects. Since it is non-toxic, it also reportedly works well as a filler – the researchers see plastic surgery as another potential application.
“I am now working full time with our newly founded company, Amferia, to get the research out to industry. I have been pleased to see a lot of real interest in our material. It's promising in terms of achieving our goal, which is to provide real societal benefit,” said Anand.
The research was published in ACS Nano.
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