How today's polymers research is enabling tomorrow's medical technology breakthroughs


An inexpensive resorbable polymer that could replace far more costly medical materials in current use, a sensor-laced plastic that stretches and feels like human skin and could give users of prosthetics a sense of touch, and a squid-based thermoplastic are among recent research projects that could have a far-reaching impact on medical technology in the years ahead.

Polyurea, a material that is stable in aqueous environments, is typically used in paints, caulking, and adhesives. With a bit of chemical ingenuity, it may also have medical applications. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have succeeded in reversing the material's aqua-stable property to make it hydrolyzable, or transiently stable in aqueous solutions. It can be engineered to degrade over a period of time, making it potentially suitable for a number of bioresorbable applications in drug delivery systems, sutures, and tissue regeneration scaffolds.

Jianjun Cheng, Associate Professor, materials science and engineering, and his team of researchers have developed a class of hindered urea bond-containing polymeric materials, or polyhindered ureas (PHUs), that can be completely hydrolyzed within a few days. A paper published in the Journal of American Chemical Society demonstrates the potential of PHUs for the design of water-degradable polymeric materials that can be easily synthesized by mixing multifunctional bulky amines and isocyanates, expanding the family of hydrolyzable polymers, according to a press release from the university.

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