In a leap for regenerative medicine, scientists have developed a biomaterial to repair the heart, muscles, and vocal cords tissues. The synthetic material can be injected into the body. Researchers combined the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering to develop the hydrogel that provides room for cells to live and grow.

The material has been developed by scientists at McGill University, who have tested it in a machine that simulates the extreme biomechanics of human vocal cords.

The study published in the journal Advanced Sciences states that the excellent biomechanical performance suggests the great potential of the new injectable hydrogel technology for repairing mechanically dynamic tissues, such as vocal folds, and other applications, such as tissue engineering, bio-fabrication, organs-on-chips, drug delivery, and disease modelling.

“People recovering from heart damage often face a long and tricky journey. Healing is challenging because of the constant movement tissues must withstand as the heart beats. The same is true for vocal cords. Until now, there was no injectable material strong enough for the job,” Guangyu Bao, a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at McGill University said in a statement.

Led by Professor Luc Mongeau and Assistant Professor Jianyu Li, researchers developed the hydrogel that once injected into the body forms a stable, porous structure allowing live cells to grow or pass through to repair the injured organs. “The results are promising, and we hope that one day the new hydrogel will be used as an implant to restore the voice of people with damaged vocal cords, for example, laryngeal cancer survivors,” Guangyu Bao added.

To test the durability of the biomaterial, researchers injected it in a machine that simulates human biomechanics, vibrating at 120 times a second for over 6 million cycles. They found that the biomaterial remained intact while other standard hydrogels fractured into pieces, unable to deal with the stress of the load.

Bao said, “We were incredibly excited to see it worked perfectly in our test. Before our work, no injectable hydrogels possessed both high porosity and toughness at the same time. To solve this issue, we introduced a pore-forming polymer to our formula.”

Researchers said that the innovation opens new avenues for other applications like drug delivery, tissue engineering, and the creation of model tissues for drug screening. The team is even looking to use hydrogel technology to create lungs to test Covid-19 drugs.

“Our work highlights the synergy of materials science, mechanical engineering and bioengineering in creating novel biomaterials with unprecedented performance. We are looking forward to translating them into the clinic,” Professor Jianyu Li said in a statement issued by McGill University.


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