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Polymer to Self-Heal at Body Temp

Monday, May 9, 2016

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Scientists at the University of Reading have come up with technology that could eventually be developed into self-healing coatings for buildings as well as other applications.

The U.K. researchers indicate their polymer material is able to heal itself at body temperature, which they believe also opens it up to be used as self-healing wound dressings for use in medicine, according to a university announcement.

self-healing polymer
Images: University of Reading

Unlike self-healing plastic technologies, the University of Reading's material is nontoxic and works at temperatures as low as body temperature.

The team published its research as a paper titled “An adhesive elastomeric supramolecular polyurethane healable at body temperature” in Chemical Science.

Self-Healing Materials

The research team is led by Professor Wayne Hayes of the University of Reading's School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, which has been at the forefront of research into self-healing plastics, according to the school.

When compared to self-healing plastics, the scientists note the significance in their discovery is that their new material is safe to humans and able to repair itself at temperatures as low as 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), making it well suited to healthcare applications.

When cut with a razor or scraped, the “supramolecular polyurethane” is essentially able to flow like a liquid to fill in the damaged area within a few hours before its molecules bind together to become solid again. 

"Anyone who has had to replace an old bandage knows it can be very painful and can easily damage healing skin,” Hayes said.

"Our work shows that this new material not only repairs itself at body temperature, but is non-toxic,” he added. “This material could maintain a sterile barrier as part of a wound dressing while constantly repairing and renewing itself, reducing the need for replacement."

self-healing polymers

The new material, a supramolecular polyurethane, is said to flow like a liquid when cut or scraped, filling in the damage in a couple of hours before its molecules bind together to become solid again.

Hayes suggested the material could also be modified to break down over time, similar to dissolvable stitches, opening it to internal surgical applications as well.

Bert Meijer, an expert on materials chemistry and supramolecular systems based at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, told the Royal Society of Chemistry that the team’s research is “beautiful.”

He added that he is especially impressed by the “mild conditions” required for self-repair. “It is remarkable how at body temperature the self-healing is performed rather quickly, while the structural integrity is maintained and thus the mechanical properties conserved.”

Future Applications

While the team is currently focusing its work on the healthcare market, the program has noted that in the future materials with these properties could be developed into self-healing coatings for buildings that would provide protection against weather- and environmental-related damage.

Other potential applications include self-healing vehicle paints and coatings for devices like mobile phones, which could repair scratches or scuffs automatically with only mild heat.

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the U.K.'s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences.


Tagged categories: Abrasion resistance; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; Fluoropolymer; Polymers; Research and development; Self-healing

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