By incorporating sensors and electronics into a gel-like stretchable material that mimics human tissue, researchers hope to develop new biomedical tools to monitor and heal the body. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This is what a band-aid in the future might look like. It's a stretchable hydrogel that in many ways mimics the properties of human tissue. (SOUNDBITE) (English) XUANHE ZHAO, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, MIT, SAYING: "Hydrogel is a polymer network infiltrated with water. Even though it is only 5 to 10 percent polymer, this network is extremely important." Important because the polymer makes up a microscopic scaffold that endows it with special properties uncommon to synthetic hydrogels. It is highly stretchable and can adhere easily to surfaces. Most importantly, it is specifically designed to be compatible with the human body - both inside and out. That compatibility could potentially give rise to a new class of biomedical devices. (SOUNDBITE) (English) XUANHE ZHAO, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, MIT, SAYING: "We further embed electronic devices such as sensors, such as different drug delivery devices into this matrix to achieve what we call the smart applications." Applications that could turn an ordinary band-aid into a tool to actively monitor and heal wounds autonomously. Zhao uses burns as an example… (SOUNDBITE) (English) XUANHE ZHAO, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, MIT, SAYING: "Once the sensor senses an abnormal increase in temperature for example It will send out a command. Then the controlled drug delivery system can deliver a specific drug to that specific location." The researchers are now fine tuning the properties and functionality of their hydrogels. They hope that soon healing everything from a scratch to an ulcer will be as simple…as putting on a band-aid.