Scientists at the University of Delaware (UD) have developed a new biomaterial with antibacterial properties that can be injected as a low-viscosity gel into a wound, where it becomes rigid nearly on contact. The gel could be used to deliver a targeted payload of cells and antibiotics to repair damaged human tissue. Applications include regenerating healthy tissue in a cancer-ridden liver, healing a biopsy site, and providing wounded soldiers in battle with pain-killing, infection-fighting medical treatment.

Formulating hydrogels as delivery vehicles for cells extends the uses of these biopolymers far beyond soft contact lenses. New uses include growing bones and organs to replace those that are diseased or injured. Hydrogels are formed from networks of super-absorbent, chain-like polymers. Although they are not soluble in water, they soak up large amounts of water, and their porous structure allows nutrients and cell waste to pass through them.

The UD team is focusing on developing peptide-based hydrogels that, once implanted in the body, would become scaffolds for cells to hold on to and grow -- cells such as fibroblasts, which form connective tissue, and osteoblasts, which form bone.

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