Human tissues exhibit a remarkable range of properties. A human heart consists mostly of muscle that cyclically expands and contracts over a lifetime. Skin is soft and pliable while also being resilient and tough. And our tendons are highly elastic and strong and capable of repeatedly stretching thousands of times per day. While limited success has been achieved in producing man-made materials that can mimic some of the properties of natural tissues (for instance polymers used as synthetic skin for wound repair) scientists have failed to create artificial materials that can match all the outstanding features of tendons and many other natural tissues. An international team of researchers has transformed a standard hydrogel into an artificial tendon with properties that meet and even surpass those of natural tendons. This new material was examined via electron microscopy and x-ray scattering to reveal the microscopic structures responsible for its outstanding features. The x-ray measurements were gathered at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Photon Source (APS). The researchers have shown that their new hydrogel-based material can be modified to mimic a variety of human tissues and could also potentially be adapted to non-biological roles. Their results were published in the journal Nature.
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Image: Fig. 1. SEM images (left) showing the deformation of the mesh-like nanofibril network during stretching and corresponding in situ SAXS patterns (right). Scale bars, 1 μm (SEM images); 0.025 Å−1 (SAXS images)
Credit: From M. Hua et al., Strong tough hydrogels via the synergy of freeze-casting and salting out,” Nature 590, 594 (25 February 2021). © 2021 Springer Nature Limited