In the development of medical technology products, there is a great demand for new naturalistic materials suitable for integration with the body. Introducing materials into the body comes with many risks such as serious infections. Many of the substances used today are very toxic, so there is a need for new, more adaptable materials.
Researchers have created a new, rubber-like material with a unique set of properties that could act as a replacement for human tissue in medical procedures. The foundation of the material is the same as plexiglass, a material commonly used in medical technology applications. Through redesigning its makeup and through a process called nanostructuring, the patented material offers a unique combination of properties. The researchers’ initial intention was to produce a hard, bone-like material but they were met with surprising results: the material turned to be very soft, flexible, and extremely elastic. It would not work as a bone replacement material but the new and unexpected properties showed that the rubber-like material may be appropriate for many applications that require an uncommon combination of properties — high elasticity, easy processability, and suitability for medical uses.
The first application is urinary catheters. The material can be constructed in such a way that prevents bacteria from growing on the surface, meaning it is very well suited for medical uses. The structure of the nano-rubber material allows its surface to be treated so that it becomes antibacterial in a natural, non-toxic way. This is achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides — small proteins that are part of our innate immune system — onto its surface. This can help reduce the need for antibiotics — an important contribution to the fight against growing antibiotic resistance.
Because the new material can be injected and inserted via keyhole surgery, it can also help reduce the need for drastic surgery and operations to rebuild parts of the body. The material can be injected via a standard cannula as a viscous fluid, so that it forms its own elastic structures within the body. The material can also be 3D-printed into specific structures as required.
A further advantage of the material is that it contains three-dimensionally ordered nanopores. This means it can be loaded with medicine for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation. This allows for localized treatment, avoiding, for example, having to treat the entire body with drugs — something that could help reduce problems associated with side effects. Since it is non-toxic, it also works well as a filler — the researchers see plastic surgery as another potential area of application for the new material.