Regenerative medicine is an exciting new frontier in the world of science. It involves utilizing the body’s repair mechanisms to regrow or heal existing organs or growing organs in a laboratory and then implanting the finished product inside a patient. Although the field shows immense promise, science and medicine haven’t yet made regrowing organs a viable option for most.
However, research in regenerative medicine continues to advance. Scientists from McGill University have developed a synthetic biomaterial with the capability to repair various organs – specifically, the heart, muscles, and vocal cords.
Led by Luc Mongeau, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Assistant Professor Jianyu Li, a team of researchers from McGill University developed an injectable hydrogel material which they say is durable enough to potentially repair damage to the heart, muscles, and vocal cords. The material is highly porous, meaning that once injected into the body, cells are able to grow and spread throughout the area and repair the damaged tissue.
“People recovering from heart damage often face a long and tricky journey. Healing is challenging because of the constant movement tissues must withstand as the heart beats. The same is true for vocal cords. Until now there was no injectable material strong enough for the job,” said Guangyu Bao, a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at McGill and one of the study’s collaborators.
Durability of the material
To determine if the material was suitably durable for use in repairing human vocal cords, the researchers tested it in a special machine designed to simulate vocal cord vibration. The machine, which produced 120 vibrations per second for a total of 6 million repetitions, left the hydrogel intact.
“We were incredibly excited to see it worked perfectly in our test. Before our work, no injectable hydrogels possessed both high porosity and toughness at the same time. To solve this issue, we introduced a pore-forming polymer to our formula,” said Bao.
The team plans to explore a number of real-world uses for their hydrogel material. One potential avenue relevant to today involves its use in testing COVID-19 drugs. Rather than testing unknown substances in human beings, the team is considering developing synthetic lungs using the material. Another possible use for the hydrogel is in patients with laryngeal cancer, whose voices are often affected in the treatment process.
“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,” Bao said.
Despite being a relatively new area of science, regenerative medicine shows a lot of promise. New technologies such as the synthetic biomaterial offer a glimpse into healthcare of the future.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld