What is a hydrogel?
A hydrogel is usually a synthetic material (chemically made) that contains lots of water absorbing molecules. In its common form, it looks a bit like transparent jelly.
The amazing thing about hydrogels are the number of different uses they possess. They are already used in many different parts of our lives without us realising, from helping farmers to grow their crops, to the making of beauty masks, to the absorbance properties of nappies/diapers. But in the last few years, the potential use for hydrogels in medicine has really sparked an interest in the scientific community.
So what can Hydrogels do for medicine?
Scientists have worked out that hydrogels are very biocompatible. This means that our body’s immune system doesn’t see it as threatening or cause any allergic reactions. They have also discovered how useful it can be for broken bones, drug delivery and stroke prevention:
- Hydrogel can be used to help re-grow bones by creating a structure for stem cells to regrow soft tissue on.
- It can be used to cause blood clots in people who are losing a lot of blood by forming a barrier. Hydrogel is so diverse that it can actually also be used as a way of delivering blood thinners into the blood to prevent clots. As hydrogel is like jelly, the blood thinning medication is released slowly as the jelly dissolves into the blood, making it a safer way to take the medicine
- In much the same way as blood thinners, cancer medicines can be delivered into the blood steam using hydrogel for a controlled release.
- Hydrogels are also currently used in contact lenses and even as a glue to re-attach the retina of your eye. They can also be used as part of a replacement lens after cataract surgery.
So what now?
The way in which hydrogels and our cells interact with each other is still being looked into. When re-building bones or altering our blood chemistry, our cells need to have exactly the right environment to grow and function correctly. It appears as though there are many potential uses for hydrogels in the future and lots more to be discovered for its use in medicine. Watch this space!
Journal: Bioactive Materials, Volume 3, Issue 4, August 2018
Authors: Decheng Wub , Xiaoyang Xu
Copyright: Open Access