Researchers to Develop a New Category of Biomaterials

 a shape memory polymer

August 25, 2016

Most people know someone with a hip or knee implant. These artificial joints are made up of metals and polymers known as biomaterials, which are essentially materials that can be safely introduced to the human body. Biomaterials can also help us understand how healthy or diseased cells and tissues work, and how cells and tissues respond when they come in contact with them. Certain biomaterials are designed to be “smart”—altering their stiffness or surface in response to triggers like exposure to water or light. Others can even control cells and tissues to encourage healing.

In a new research project funded by the National Science Foundation’s Biomaterials program, Professors Jay Henderson, Ian Hosein, and Bucknell’s Patrick Mather will create a new category of biomaterials. These new biomaterials will not only have specific properties that cells and tissues respond to, but will also be “smart” and capable of responding to the presence of the cells and tissues. By studying the back-and-forth interaction between the material and the cells and tissues, the team will develop a new understanding of how cells and tissues work and how materials can be used to control them.

Henderson says, “Stimuli responsive biomaterials have been developed to assay or control biological systems, but the potential of these biomaterials may be largely untapped. Integrating stimuli responsive biomaterials with biological systems to create hybrid feedback systems will provide new insight into phenomena at the interface of synthetic and living systems.”

Henderson, Hosein, Mather, and their teams of student researchers will create these new stimuli responsive shape-memory polymers and study them in innovative synthetic/living feedback systems with three main objectives—to tune cytocompatible shape-memory polymers for photo-thermal stimulation; to develop and understand enzyme-responsive shape-memory polymers; and to study synthetic and living feedback systems. This work will lead to novel material designs and enable the discovery of new material phenomena.

In addition to funding an advance in the biomedical field, the team’s NSF grant will continue and expand a yearly two-day workshop to train Central New York STEM teachers in “Making Smart Materials.”