A 3D printable and highly stretchable tough hydrogel is developed by combining poly(ethylene glycol) and sodium alginate, which synergize to. Hydrogels are used as scaffolds for tissue engineering, vehicles for drug delivery, actuators for optics and fluidics, and model extracellular matrices for biological. In this investigation, we successfully prepared extremely stretchable, transparent and tough DN hydrogels by using neutral synthetic polymer–poly(vinyl alcohol).

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Photo shows the open lattice of 3-D printed material, with materials having different characteristics of strength and flexibility indicated by different colors. The process might lead to injectable materials for delivering drugs or cells into the body; scaffolds for regenerating load-bearing tissues; or tough but flexible actuators for future robots, the researchers say.

That could make it possible to 3D-print complex hydrogel structures — for example, implants to be infused with cells and drugs and then placed in the body. Hydrogels, defined hydrogeos water molecules encased in rubbery polymer networks that provide shape and structure, are similar to natural tissues such as cartilage, which is used by the body as a natural shock absorber.

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The new 3-D printing process could eventually make it possible to produce tough hydrogel structures artificially for repair or replacement of load-bearing tissues, such as cartilage. While synthetic hydrogels are commonly weak or brittle, a number of them that are tough and stretchable have been highlyy over the last decade. In addition, the previous work was not able to produce complex 3-D structures with tough hydrogels, Zhao says.

New Process for 3D Printing of Highly Stretchable and Tough Hydrogels

The new biocompatible tough hydrogel can be printed into diverse 3-D structures such as ttough hollow cube, hemisphere, pyramid, twisted bundle, multilayer mesh, or physiologically relevant shapes, such as a human nose or ear. The new method uses a commercially available 3D-printing mechanism, Zhao explains. One of the two polymers provides elasticity to the printed material, while rough other allows it to dissipate energy under deformation without breaking. Such resilience is a key feature of natural bodily tissues that need to withstand a variety of forces and impacts.

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Such materials might eventually be used to custom-print shapes for the replacement aand cartilaginous tissues in ears, noses, or load-bearing joints, Zhao says. Lab tests have already shown that the material is even tougher than natural cartilage. The next step in the research will be to improve the resolution of the printer, which is currently limited to details about micrometers in size, and to test the printed hydrogel structures in animal models.

In addition to biomedical applications, the same technique could be applied to printing a variety of soft but tough structural materials, he says, such as actuators for soft robotic systems. Zhao, but the demonstration that one can achieve similar mechanical performance with a common biomedical polymer is a substantial advance.

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