Synthetic Hydrogel Could Prevent Medical Implant Rejections

In tests done on mice, the hydrogel effectively disguised the implant and tricked the body into thinking it wasn't even there.

What's the Latest Development?

Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a synthetic material that, when used to coat a device such as a heart valve or breast implant, prevents the body from rejecting it. The hydrogel is comprised of water and a special polymer that deflects all proteins. Their appearance on the surface of an implant is a sign that the body is preparing to reject it by building a collagen wall around it. However, when devices coated with the substance were implanted in mice, "collagen was loosely and evenly distributed in the tissue around the polymer, suggesting that the mice bodies didn't even detect the polymer's presence." Details on the new hydrogel appeared in this week's Nature Biotechnology.

What's the Big Idea?

While implant technology has grown by leaps and bounds, none of it does any good if the body doesn't accept the implant, which is why researchers have spent decades trying to get around the issue. Since 1996, the University of Washington has been home to an engineered biomaterials center funded by the National Science Foundation. Its director, Buddy Ratner, says the new material "has applications for so many different medical implants, because we literally put hundreds of devices into the body...This hydrogel is not just pretty good, it's exceptional." Next comes tests on humans, which will likely involve an implant manufacturer. 

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