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UT Dallas Professor Designing 'Smart' Material That Changes Shape To Heal Wounds

Courtesy of UT Dallas
Taylor Ware is a professor of bio-engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas.

A bio-engineering professor at the University of Texas at Dallas has received a half-a-million-dollar grant to further his research into material that could help with human healing. 

Taylor Ware is designing “smart” adhesive that changes shape to stick to human cuts or wounds without the need for glue. It relies on mechanical bonding, similar to hook-and-loop fasteners, such as Velcro. 

His research will receive nearly $500,000 over the next five years through an award from the National Science Foundation.

Interview Highlights

On how the "smart" material works

If we think about living organisms, one of the key aspects of those organisms is that they're capable of responding to their environment. Most materials don't respond to their environment, at least not in a controlled way. What we're after is creating a series of plastics that change in response to some sort of environmental cue. Oftentimes, we talk about physical cues, something like temperature, the presence of moisture, and in that case, what that triggers is a change in shape or stiffness in the material.

How the material adheres to human skin

If you try to use chemical bonds to adhere to skin or another tissue when it's wet, you form chemical bonds with the water — not with the tissue or the skin underneath. We're interested in using shape. Most of the time we think of shape as being set during manufacturing of a material. You have a chair, you don't really want that chair to change shape, it holds its shape the rest of its life. In this case, we have something that goes onto the skin, and in the presence of moisture or heat from the body, actually undergoes a controlled deformation, so you might have something that latches on, kind of like Velcro.

On where the idea came from

In my lab over the last several years we've become very interested in shape-changing materials. And so there is a variety of different things that have inspired us for using shape change. One of them is the parasite that adheres to intestines. Parasites these are actually things you don't want adhering to you, but one of the ways they do it is they deploy little teeth into the tissue and they're actually able to hold in ways that synthetic materials simply can't. So, we're inspired not only by some of the good things we see in nature but sometimes by the bad things as well.

Why doctors would be interested in the material

Standard patch with adhesive either permanently adheres for a very long time or perhaps only adheres for a few minutes or hours and then it passes through the system. We can control when that adhesion comes on and comes off; we build in these on/off switches.

You can also imagine using things like drug delivery, where you have a reservoir of a drug within the material and have that on a pre-programmed time scale.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.