Research at The University of Akron to develop a polymer coating for medical sensors implanted in the body has attracted a $499,995 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Gang Cheng, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemical engineering, has been working on biologically compatible polymers for a decade. The five-year grant will allow him to understand more about the structure and function of water-soluble polymers that are safe to put in the body and that also conduct electricity.
Sensors coated with a conducting polymer could monitor biomarkers, such as blood sugar, around the clock. Paired with a drug-delivery system, a sensor could trigger doses of medication when needed. The polymer also could be used on pacemakers and other more sophisticated implanted devices that must communicate with the body.
Conventional conducting polymers like those used in LEDs and solar cells are not entirely suitable for medical implants because the body will reject them as invaders and shut down the electrical connection.
Cheng's team will build polymer-coated sensors to test in the lab. The researchers plan to seek additional grants or investments to raise the money needed to reach the next step, testing the sensors in rats.
Cheng's research plan includes sharing his work this summer with a middle school science class. He will show the students a simplified version of his research, while their teacher will help with the polymer testing.
Although beyond the scope of this grant, Cheng thinks biocompatible conducting polymers have other applications as well. One could be biofuel cells, which turn the sugars in the body into energy and someday might replace batteries as power sources for implanted medical devices.