Adaptable behavior such as triggered disintegration affords a broad scope and utility for (bio)materials in diverse applications in materials science and engineering. The impact of such materials continues to grow due to the increased importance of environmental considerations as well as the increased use of implants in medical practices.
Biocompatible polymer gels are excellent storage materials for drugs. However, good long-term storage means slow and poorly tuned release. As a way to tackle this challenge, the Institute for Biologically Inspired Materials has pioneered the concept of changing the state of matter locally to alter their function, e.g., using nanoparticles tuned as antennas to external electromagnetic fields. This was used to locally convert membranes to liquids, without affecting the environment by applying alternating magnetic fields and thereby triggering efficient release from stable nanocapsules.
However, examples of such materials are still few. Our long-time collaborator, Prof. Alexander Zelikin at Aarhus University, has now, with our support, demonstrated how biocompatible hydrogels within seconds could be turned into liquids using a near-infrared laser exciting gold nanoparticles or dyes incorporated in the gel. The readily available physical hydrogels based on poly(vinyl alcohol) remain stable at the same temperature when the entire gel is heated. These results show a new direction for polymer-based drug delivery as well as for 3D-structuring of hydrogels.
The joint research was published as an article in the prestigious journal ACS Nano as “Remotely Triggered Liquefaction of Hydrogel Materials.”