By Ben Gruber
Cambridge, MASS (Reuters) - Wearable electronics will revolutionize the way doctors diagnose and treat patients, according to researchers at MIT, who are developing stretchable hydrogels that share many of the same properties of human tissue.
"Hydrogel is a polymer network infiltrated with water. Even though it is only 5 to 10 percent polymer, this network is extremely important," said Xuanhe Zhao, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The polymer network Zhao and his colleagues are developing make up a microscopic scaffold that endows bio-based hydrogels with special properties uncommon to synthetic hydrogels.
It is highly stretchable and can adhere easily to surfaces. Most importantly, says Zhao, it is specifically designed to be compatible with the human body - both inside and out. That compatibility could potentially give rise to a new class of biomedical devices.
"We embed electronic devices such as sensors, such as different drug delivery devices into this matrix to achieve what we call the smart applications," said Zhao.
Those types of applications could turn an ordinary band-aid into a tool to actively monitor and heal wounds autonomously.
"Once the sensor senses an abnormal increase in temperature, for example, it will send out a command. Then the controlled drug delivery system can deliver a specific drug to that specific location," he said.
The researchers are now fine tuning the properties and functionality of their hydrogels. They hope that soon healing everything from a scratch to an ulcer will be as simple as putting on a band-aid.