The fundamental capabilities of squid tissues and the inventiveness of chemists work together to further the understanding of hydrogels. Natural squid tissue and synthetic polymers have been blended by scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan to create a robust hydrogel that closely resembles the particular characteristics of biological tissue. There are many applications for hydrogels, which are networks of polymers containing a lot of water, including soft robotic parts, novel sensing systems, and medical prostheses.
The research results have been published in the journal NPG Asia Materials. Natural biological tissues exhibit unique properties essential to their functions, which researchers are seeking to replicate in hydrogels. Muscles, for example, in addition to strength and flexibility, have physical properties that vary in different directions and are built from a hierarchy of structures working together. Bones and blood vessels also exhibit these characteristics, known as hierarchical anisotropy.
Unlike natural tissues that researchers wish to mimic, most synthetic hydrogels have uniform properties in all directions and are structurally weak. “By combining the properties of squid-derived tissues with synthetic polymers, we have demonstrated a hybrid strategy that serves as a general method for preparing hydrogels with useful hierarchical anisotropy and also toughness,” explains polymer scientist Tasuku Nakajima of the team from Hokkaido University.
The manufacturing process begins with a commercially available frozen squid mantle – the main outer part of a squid. In living squid, the mantle expands to absorb water into the body, then contracts sharply to throw the water outward as a jet. This ability depends on the anisotropic muscles of the connective tissue of the squid. The researchers took advantage of the molecular arrangements within this natural system to construct their bio-mimic gel. Chemical and thermal treatment of thin slices of thawed squid tissue mixed with polyacrylamide polymer molecules initiated the formation of the cross-linked hybrid hydrogel. It has what is called a dual network structure, with the synthetic polymer network embedded and bonded to the more natural muscle fiber network derived from the squid mantle.
“The DN gel we synthesized is much stronger and more elastic than the natural squid mantle,” explains Professor Jian Ping Gong, who led the team. “The unique composite structure also makes the material incredibly resistant to breaking, four times stronger than the original material.” The current proof-of-concept work should be just the beginning of exploring many other hybrid hydrogels that could exploit the unique properties of other natural systems. Jellyfish have already been used as a source of material for simpler single-array hydrogels, so they are an obvious next choice for exploring dual-array hybrid options.
“Possible applications include load-bearing artificial fibrous tissues, such as artificial ligaments and tendons, for medical use,” says Gong. Other work by the team will explore the biocompatibility of gels and investigate options for making a range of gels suitable for different uses. (ANI)
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