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SYFY WIRE Medical Technology

This flexible new nanomaterial could someday substitute for human tissue

By Jeff Spry
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Adding to a new wave of medical miracles, a team of researchers at Chalmers University in Sweden has created a revolutionary non-toxic, synthetic material with a rubbery consistency that could be a valuable asset to doctors replacing or reconstructing human skin and cartilage.

This extraordinary creation is actually derived from the same components that are in plexiglass. Its potential utilization in numerous medical devices is wide-reaching, as conveyed by scientists in a new paper published in the online journal ACS Nano.

“There are many diseases where the cartilage breaks down and friction results between bones, causing great pain for the affected person,” said research lead Martin Andersson. “This material could potentially act as a replacement in those cases.”

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There's a considerable demand for the development of medical technology products today made from naturalistic substances that will integrate harmlessly with the human body without causing rejection or infection, and this interesting invention holds considerable promise in myriad applications.

Using a technique known as nanostructuring, the research team reconstituted the makeup of basic plexiglass, attempting to create a durable, bonelike substance — but the results were surprising. Instead of a hard material, they found that their new concoction resulted in a flexible, elastic surface that could be formed in various shapes and sizes.

In addition to its adaptability, the nano-rubber marvel lets its surface be coated to provide antibacterial effects in a natural way. The method by which this is achieved calls for injecting small immune system proteins, called antimicrobial peptides, directly onto its surface, which sufficiently lowers the requirements for antibiotics, thus aiding the fight against antibiotic resistance.

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"We were really surprised that the material turned out 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," says study co-author Anand Kumar Rajasekharan.

"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."

The as-yet-unnamed material also holds the distinction that it can be injected as a viscous fluid or applied using keyhole surgery, where it can easily form a variety of elastic structures inside the body, or 3-D printed into custom structures as needed. With such adaptability on display, the possibilities seem endless.