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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
7-May-2014

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Contact: David Ruth
david@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University
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A hydrogel that knows when to go

Rice University bioscaffold material degrades as bone grows to replace it

IMAGE: Brendan Watson, a graduate student at Rice University, led a project to create a hydrogel bioscaffold that is liquid at room temperature and instantly solidifies as it approaches body temperature....

Click here for more information.

HOUSTON (May 7, 2014) Rice University bioengineers have created a hydrogel that instantly turns from liquid to semisolid at close to body temperature and then degrades at precisely the right pace.

The gel shows potential as a bioscaffold to support the regrowth of bone and other three-dimensional tissues in a patient's body using the patient's own cells to seed the process.

The hydrogel created in the lab of Rice bioengineer Antonios Mikos is a liquid at room temperature but, when injected into a patient, becomes a gel that would fill and stabilize a space while natural tissue grows to replace it.

The new material detailed in the American Chemical Society journal Biomacromolecules takes the state of the art a few steps further, Rice scientists said.

"This study describes the development of a novel thermogelling hydrogel for stem cell delivery that can be injected into skeletal defects to induce bone regeneration and that can be degraded and eliminated from the body as new bone tissue forms and matures," said Mikos, Rice's Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

A problem with thermogelling polymers is that once they harden, they begin to collapse and then force out water, said Rice graduate student and the paper's lead author, Brendan Watson. That process, known as syneresis, defeats the purpose of defining the space doctors hope to fill with new tissue.

IMAGE: A new hydrogel invented at Rice University turns from liquid to semisolid as it moves from room temperature to near body temperature in an experiment. The material inside the tube...

Click here for more information.

"If the transition gellation temperature is one or two degrees below body temperature, these polymers slowly start to expel water and shrink down until they're one-half or one-third the size. Then the defect-filling goal is no longer accomplished," he said.

Watson and his colleagues at Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative solved the problem by adding chemical cross-linkers to the gel's molecules. "It's a secondary mechanism that, after the initial thermogellation, begins to stabilize the gel," he said. The links begin to form at the same time as the gel, but crosslinking takes up to a half-hour to complete.

The hydrogel is designed for stability over its long-term use as a scaffold for cells to take root and proliferate. But it's also designed for its own timely destruction.

"I came up with the idea a few years ago, but it's finally all come together," said Watson, who is pursuing both a Rice doctorate and a medical degree in a joint program with nearby Baylor College of Medicine. "These chemical crosslinks are attached by phosphate ester bonds, which can be degraded by catalysts in particular, alkaline phosphatase -- that are naturally produced by bone tissue.

IMAGE: What started as a clear liquid at room temperature quickly turns into a white gel at body temperature. The new hydrogel invented at Rice University could find use in tissue...

Click here for more information.

"The catalysts are naturally present in your body at all times, in low levels. But in areas of newly formed bone, they actually get to much higher levels," he said. "So what we get is a semismart material for bone-tissue engineering. As new bone is formed, the gel should degrade more quickly in that area to allow even more space for bone to form."

The fine balancing act took a lot of expertise from his colleagues and co-authors, including Paul Engel, chair of Rice's Department of Chemistry, and F. Kurtis Kasper, a senior faculty fellow in bioengineering. "It looks like we may have just decided to try something and found that, hey, it worked! But that wasn't the case," said Watson, describing the months and years it took to refine the hydrogel. Engel's help with the sophisticated chemistry was especially valuable, he said.

Watson expects that the material degradation can be tuned to match various bone growth rates.

"Optimizing the degradation kinetics is nontrivial and may be better suited for a biotech company," he said. "We focus more on the performance of the hydrogels and the underlying molecular mechanisms"

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The National Institutes of Health, the Keck Center Nanobiology Training Program of the Gulf Coast Consortia and the Baylor College of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program supported the research.

Watch a video demonstration of Rice's hydrogel here: http://youtu.be/IM6Ubz4I-io

Read the abstract at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bm500175e

This news release can be found online at http://news.rice.edu/2014/05/07/a-hydrogel-that-knows-when-to-go/

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews

Related Materials:

The Mikos Research Group: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~mikosgrp/

Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative: http://brc.rice.edu/home/

Images for download:

http://news.rice.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/0512_GEL-1-web.jpg

Brendan Watson, a graduate student at Rice University, led a project to create a hydrogel bioscaffold that is liquid at room temperature and instantly solidifies as it approaches body temperature. A second process allows the hydrogel to break down slowly as it is replaced by healthy tissue. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

http://news.rice.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/0512_GEL-2-web.jpg

A new hydrogel invented at Rice University turns from liquid to semisolid as it moves from room temperature to near body temperature in an experiment. The material inside the tube quickly turns white as it gellates. Chemical links in the gel take longer to form, but help it holds its size and shape as a scaffold for growing new tissue. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

http://news.rice.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/0512_GEL-3-web.jpg

What started as a clear liquid at room temperature quickly turns into a white gel at body temperature. The new hydrogel invented at Rice University could find use in tissue engineering applications. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,920 undergraduates and 2,567 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6.3-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 2 for "best value" among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go here.

David Ruth
713-348-6327
david@rice.edu

Mike Williams
713-348-6728
mikewilliams@rice.edu



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