When a chair leg breaks or a cell phone shatters, either must be repaired or replaced. But what if these materials could be programmed to regenerate themselves, replenishing the damaged or missing components, and thereby extend their lifetime and reduce the need for costly repairs?
A computational “fabric” envisioned by University of Pittsburgh researchers could lead to the development of clothing that could respond to external stimuli, monitor vital signs of patients or athletes, and help the visually impaired “sense” their surrounding environment.
Some animals—like the octopus and cuttlefish—transform their shape based on environment, fending off attackers or threats in the wild. For decades, researchers have worked toward mimicking similar biological responses in non-living organisms, as it would have significant implications in the medical arena.
Oscillating Gel Gives Synthetic Materials the Ability to “Speak”
Self-moving gels can give synthetic materials the ability to “act alive” and mimic primitive biological communication, University of Pittsburgh researchers, led by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Anna Balazs, PhD, have found. In a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Pitt research team demonstrates that a synthetic system can reconfigure itself through a combination of chemical communication and interaction with light.
Recently, post-doctoral researcher Antonio D’Amore (pictured right) and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine director William Wagner, PhD (pictured left), professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, director of Thrombosis Research for the Artificial Heart and Lung Program, and deputy director of the NSF Engineering Research Center on “Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials,” spoke with Tom Imerito, president of Science Communications, about the McGowan Institute, the Cardiovascular Engineering Laboratory, and Dr. D’Amore’s research project. Mr. Imerito learned and reported that the primary research interests of the Wagner Cardiovascular Engineering Laboratory in the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine are in the area of cardiovascular engineering with projects that address medical device biocompatibility and design, tissue engineering, and targeted imaging. The laboratory’s mission is to apply engineering principles to develop technologies that will improve the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
A project, originally supported by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine through seed funds from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, has now received National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the NIH recently announced that Qrono Inc. will receive a Small Business Technology Transfer Grant in 2012. The grant is entitled “A New In Silico Design Platform for Building Custom Controlled-Release Systems.”
Few synthetic materials are able to mimic the human body’s ability to regulate itself—until now. In Nature, a team of engineers from the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University, including McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Anna Balazs, PhD, distinguished professor of chemical engineering and Robert Von der Luft professor, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, has presented a strategy for building self-regulating microscopic materials, ultimately paving the way toward so-called smart buildings with more energy-saving features and smarter biomedical engineering applications.
Oscillating Gel Acts Like Artificial Skin, Giving Robots Potential Ability to “Feel”
Sooner than later, robots may have the ability to “feel.” In a paper published in Advanced Functional Materials, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Anna Balazs, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrated that a nonoscillating gel can be resuscitated in a fashion similar to a medical cardiopulmonary resuscitation. These findings pave the way for the development of a wide range of new applications that sense mechanical stimuli and respond chemically—a natural phenomenon few materials have been able to mimic.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Mark Roberts, MD, professor and chair in University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Health Policy and Management, is co-author of a study of new research that focuses on the composition and timing of the annual flu vaccine design. Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering faculty members Oleg Prokopyev, PhD, an assistant professor, and Andrew Schaefer, PhD, associate professor, both in the Department of Industrial Engineering, and Osman Ozaltin, PhD, assistant professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, were also co-authors on the study.