Hydrogels have been about for over half a century now, so they are not new. However, what is new is the wide range of applications they are being used for today, with processes ranging from biological to industrial. Several different original monographs, reviews, and papers focus on the application, properties, and synthesis of hydrogels. In this blog post, we ask experts Manchester Biogel to reveal more about the recent uses of hydrogels so that you can get a better understanding.
What is a hydrogel?
A hydrogel is a 3D network of hydrophilic polymers, which will end up swelling while in water, holding a large quantity of water. At the same time, the structure is still maintained because of the physical or chemical cross-linking of the individual polymer chains. Hydrogels were initially reported more than 70 years ago, back in 1960. By definition, water needs to constitute a minimum of 10 per cent of the total volume or weight for the material to be considered a hydrogel.
The different applications of hydrogels
Hydrogels are used in several different fields today. This is because of their specific structures and compatibility with various conditions of use. The flexibility of hydrogels, which is because of their water content, means that they can be utilised in numerous shapes, ranging from biological to industrial. Below, we will take a look at some of the chief uses and applications of hydrogels so you can get a better understanding.
- Scaffolds in tissue engineering – Tissue engineering is a combination of cells, engineering, and materials for replacing or improving biological organs. This must find the correct cells, culturing them in an appropriate scaffold under the right conditions. Hydrogels appeal as a scaffold material because their structures are similar to the extracellular matrix of many tissues. They can usually be processed under somewhat mild conditions, and they may be delivered in a minimally invasive manner.
- Mimic the ECM for in vitro Cultures – Hydrogels can act as a scaffold to mimic the extracellular (ECM) when studying cells in vitro, similar to scaffolds in tissue engineering. The ECM is the non-cellular component of all tissues and organs. ECM’s within the body range widely between different tissues and can also range in stiffness and protein composition. For example, in cancerous tissue the ECM is typically stiffer and more acidic than healthy tissue. When studying tissues and organ models in vitro, hydrogels can be used to mimic the ECM of the tissue more closely by offering a stiffer gel or a more acidic one, depending on the organ and disease.
- Drug delivery – Last but not least, drug delivery systems (DDS), which are used for delivering drugs at specific rates for predefined periods, have been used to overcome the limitations of standard drug formulations. The excellent properties of hydrogels make them an outstanding selection in applications for drug delivery. The hydrogel structures with high porosity can be achieved by controlling two factors, i.e. the affinity of the hydrogel of the aqueous environment whereby swelling happens and the degree of cross-linking in the matrix. As the structures are porous, the hydrogels are highly permeable to various drugs. Therefore, medications can be loaded and released in the right conditions.
Other recent uses of hydrogels include supercapacitor hydrogels, injectable hydrogels for spinal cord regeneration, biosensors, pH-sensors, and also dyes and heavy metal ions removal. And, we are sure that there will only be more and more applications for hydrogels in the future.