Synthetic fabrics can repair hearts, muscles and vocal cords

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By combining their knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology and engineering, scientists at McGill University are developing a biomaterial strong enough to repair the heart, muscles and vocal cords, which represents a major breakthrough in regenerative medicine.

“People recovering from heart injuries often face a long and difficult journey. Healing is difficult because of the constant movements that the tissues have to endure as the heart beats. The same is true for the vocal cords. Until now, there has not been an injectable material powerful enough for the job, ”explains Guangyu Bao, a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at McGill University.

The team, led by Professor Luc Mongeau and Assistant Professor Jianyu Li, developed a new injectable hydrogel for wound repair. Hydrogel is a type of biomaterial that allows cells to live and develop. Once injected into the body, the biomaterial forms a stable, porous structure that allows living cells to grow or pass through to repair damaged organs.

“The results are promising and we hope that one day the new hydrogel will be used as an implant to restore the voice of people with damaged vocal cords, for example laryngeal cancer survivors,” says Guangyu Bao.

The illustration shows the use of injectable hydrogel as an implant to fill a wound and restore the voice. Credit: Sepideh Mohammadi
Put it to the test

Scientists tested the durability of their hydrogel in a machine they developed to simulate the extreme biomechanics of human vocal cords. Vibrating at 120 times per second for over 6 million cycles, the new biomaterial remained intact while other standard hydrogels shattered into pieces, unable to withstand the stress of the load.

“We were incredibly excited to see that it worked perfectly in our test. Prior to our work, no injectable hydrogel had both high porosity and toughness. To solve this problem, we have introduced a pore-forming polymer in our formula, ”explains Guangyu Bao.


The researchers tested three different hydrogels using the vocal cord bioreactor. While the new hydrogel remained stable, the two standard hydrogels, which represent most of the existing injectable hydrogels, did not survive the test. Credit: Sareh Taheri

The innovation also opens up new avenues for other applications such as drug delivery, tissue engineering and the creation of model tissues for drug screening, the scientists say. The team is even looking to use hydrogel technology to create lungs to test for COVID-19 drugs.

“Our work highlights the synergy of materials science, mechanical engineering and bioengineering in the creation of new biomaterials with unprecedented performance. We look forward to translating them into the clinic, ”said Professor Jianyu Li, Canada Research Chair in Biomaterials and Musculoskeletal Health.

Video of the film extract Hydrogel Phonation

The vocal cord bioreactor simulates the biomechanics of the vocal cords to test hydrogels. Credit: Guangyu Bao

About this study

“Injectable, porogenic and perfusable dual-network hydrogels resilient to extreme biomechanical stimulation” by Sareh Taheri, Guangyu Bao, Zixin He, Sepideh Mohammadi, Hossein Ravanbakhsh, Larry Lessard, Jianyu Li and Luc Mongeau has been published in Advanced sciences.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/advs.202102627


About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill University is the best medical doctoral university in Canada. McGill is consistently ranked among the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It is a world-renowned higher education institution with research activities spanning three campuses, 11 faculties, 13 vocational schools, 300 study programs and over 40,000 students, including over 10,200 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, with its 12,800 international students representing 31% of the student body. More than half of McGill students report having a mother tongue other than English, including about 19% of our students who say French is their mother tongue.


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