Stretchable Hydrogel Overview
Hydrogels are a futuristic type of material used in tissue engineering and as a vehicle for drug delivery. But recent advances in stretchable hydrogels have given us hydrogel electronics. Here’s what you need to know about this new technology.
What Are Stretchable Hydrogels?
When someone says “stretchable hydrogel”, they’re typically referring to stretchable hydrogel electronics and devices.
The idea of stretchable hydrogel electronics was recently put forward in a study published in Advanced Materials on December 7, 2015. That study defined hydrogel electronics as the following:
“Stretchable hydrogel electronics and devices are designed by integrating stretchable conductors, functional chips, drug-delivery channels, and reservoirs into stretchable, robust, and biocompatible hydrogel matrices.”
That study was performed by researchers at MIT.
One of the reasons why stretchable hydrogels are seen as such a huge advance is that traditionally, human bodies are soft and wet while electronics are hard and dry. As one researcher in the study above explained, “These two systems have drastically different properties.”
These two properties have made it difficult for electronics to join with our bodies. Stretchable hydrogels allow electronics to “join” with our bodies in more ways than ever before.
In the study linked above, researchers created a new hydrogel by inserting a titanium wire into the hydrogel, then testing its ability to conduct electricity. The hydrogel was found to maintain conductivity even when being repeatedly stretched.
Researchers also used the hydrogel to continuously monitor skin temperature and release drugs – even when it was being stretched in all sorts of different ways.
Uses for Stretchable Hydrogels
Researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to different ways to use stretchable hydrogels. Some of the uses put forward so far include:
— Smart wound dressings capable of sensing temperatures of various locations on the skin
— Band-Aids and bandages that can deliver different drugs to different locations
— Bandages that can maintain a sustained release of drugs at a certain location
The Band-Aid of the Future
You can kind of look at stretchable hydrogels as like a “smart bandage”. Just like we have smart phones and smart TVs, the medical field may be catching up by offering smart stretchable hydrogels that are able to intelligently deliver drugs to your system.
Some are calling it the Band-Aid of the future.
Using a gel-like material filled with electronics, medical professionals can monitor patients at a level never seen before.
The hydrogel is filled with electronics like temperature sensors and LED lights. Physicians may use the hydrogel to release medicine into the patient’s system based on their changes in skin temperature. Or, the LEDs might light up when the medicine is running low.
Like all good Band-Aids, the stretchable hydrogel bandages stretch along with your body movements, sticking to your body without interfering with other devices – like the other electronic devices monitoring the patient’s medical needs.
Some people might think it’s “creepy” to think that medical devices could cling to your flesh. Others think it’s just the natural next step for medical technology.
Ultimately, stretchable hydrogel is being called a smart wound dressing. It has the potential to save real lives at hospitals and clinics around the world. Even when a doctor or nurse isn’t immediately present, the stretchable hydrogel is able to confidently monitor patients and deliver drugs as needed.
You’ll surely be hearing more about stretchable hydrogels in the near future.