Polymeric Biomaterials

Shape Memory Polymers as Biomaterial

This CAREER project aims to elucidate the underlying mechanism of the plasticization-induced shape memory effect of thiol-ene-based polymers. The model application for this material will be a heat shrink tubing that can shrink at bodily conditions (37° C and simulated body fluids) and be used to seal colonic anastomosis.

The specific three aims are to

  1. Systematically investigate the effect of crosslink-density and chain extender length on the plasticization-induced shape memory effect of thiol-ene-based polymers. Mechanical and thermomechanical measurements inside simulated body fluids will be used to assess shape memory properties and structure-property relationships.
  2. Understand the relationship between material thickness, degree of shape-programming, and radial recovery forces of tube-shaped SMPs to determine optimal design parameters for sufficient shape recovery using the heat shrink tube model.
  3. Demonstrate the functionality of a biomedical heat shrink tube that utilizes the plasticization-induced shape recovery through an ex vivo colon anastomosis model and quantify mechanical and sealing properties.

The proposed research will advance science by filling the gap in the structure-property relationship of thiol-ene-based SMPs that utilize plasticization for their shape recovery, which is essential for designing future devices.

In addition, this innovative biomaterial will allow the broader research community to develop novel biomedical devices tailored to specific tissues and applications. Educational and outreach activities will be implemented to raise excitement, awareness, and interest in the emerging field of smart polymeric biomaterials. These will include a gender- and ethnicity-matched mentor-mentee program, training students from underrepresented groups in the PI’s laboratory, incorporating research discoveries into coursework, and communicating research to the general public at local science slam events.

SMP Bandage to prevent Colonic Anastomotic Leak

After colonic resections that may be necessary in case of cancer or diverticulitis, the two parts of the colon need to be reattached after the procedure. This procedure is called anastomosis and can be done through manual suture or staples. In any case, there are rates between 1% and 30% of anastomotic dehiscence reported in the literature.1 Anastomotic Leak is defined as a “leak of luminal contents from a surgical join between two hollow viscera.”2 If contents from the inside of the colon leak into the abdominal area, the consequences are various clinical signs like peritonitis; feculent wound, drain discharge, abscess, or fever. “Anastomotic leakage remains today a major cause of postoperative mortality and morbidity in colorectal surgery.”3

In order to minimize the risk of anastomotic leakage, we propose to develop a bandage made of SMP, which can wrap around the colon to seal the reconnected parts from the outside and therefore prevent any fluids to get into the abdominal cavity. The SMP will be fabricated into a tube shape that has a slightly smaller radius than the colon. The tube will then be radially expanded to a radius which is 1.5 times the radius of the colon. The device will be placed at the outside of the colon, covering the part where the anastomosis took place. The polymer will recover its shape due to the plasticization induced shape memory effect and will wrap tightly around to seal the colonic part after surgery against leakage. The SMP will be designed to be biodegradable in order to dissolve over the course of 3 to 6 months so that a second surgical procedure will not be necessary. The biodegradability and time span of degradation can be tuned by the number of ester groups in the polymeric backbone and the crosslink density of the polymeric network.

Figure 3. Working principle of the SMP bandage to prevent anastomotic leak. (created in BioRender)

In addition, anti-inflammatory drugs and bioactive compounds that promote wound healing will be loaded into the polymer. This study will serve as a model to test the hypothesis that polymers loaded with bioactive compounds reveal positive effects on the healing process and can serve as a platform technology capable of concurrent drug delivery.

[1] Kingham, T. P.; Pachter, H. L., Colonic Anastomotic Leak: Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Journal of the American College of Surgeons 2009, 208 (2), 269-278.

[2] Peel, A. L.; Taylor, E. W., Proposed definitions for the audit of postoperative infection: a discussion paper. Surgical Infection Study Group. Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England 1991, 73 (6), 385-388.  

[3] Alves, A.; Panis, Y.; Trancart, D.; Regimbeau, J.-M.; Pocard, M.; Valleur, P., Factors Associated with Clinically Significant Anastomotic Leakage after Large Bowel Resection: Multivariate Analysis of 707Patients. World Journal of Surgery 2002,26 (4), 499-502


We are exploring hydrogels for various biomedical applications. We are interested in hydrogels for:

  • drug delivery systems
  • wound healing patches
  • scaffolds for 3D cell cultures and tissue engineering applications

In order to improve the biocompatibility of these materials, we are utilizing naturally derived polymeric biomaterials such as chitosan, collagen, and gelatin as starting materials for our custom hydrogels. Using materials that are naturally found in nature, and even within our own body, greatly reduces the foreign body reaction.

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