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Published on May 23, 2024
MIT's Medical Marvel: 'Invisibility Cloak' Hydrogel Could End Device-Related ScarringSource: Google Street View

Scientists at MIT appear to have struck medical gold with a new adhesive hydrogel coating that could mark the end of scarring around implanted medical devices. This innovative hydrogel is akin to surgical tape and attempts to stealthily shield devices like pacemakers from the body's immune defenses. The use of such hydrogel could drastically reduce complications, and potentially, to greatly extend the lifespan of these essential medical devices.

This development is poised to change the game for patients with implants. "The dream of many research groups and companies is to implant something into the body that over the long term the body will not see, and the device can provide therapeutic or diagnostic functionality. Now we have such an ‘invisibility cloak,’ and this is very general: There’s no need for a drug, no need for a special polymer," MIT professor Xuanhe Zhao told MIT News.

MIT postdoc Jingjing Wu led the research, which involved coating medical devices with hydrogel adhesive and implanting them in various animal tissues like the abdomen, colon, and heart. Remarkably, even after weeks, there was no visible scarring. This could be a breakthrough for patients, providing them with less invasive procedures and potentially longer-lasting medical solutions.

Coating epicardial pacemakers is one practical application for this adhesive. Wires touching the heart often succumb to fibrotic damage, but in tests, the adhesive-coated wires implanted in rats continued to function flawlessly for at least three months, with no scar tissue in sight. The success across different tissues and devices suggests a broad utility span capable of revolutionizing how medical devices interact with the human body.

The implications of this research are not lost on the wider medical community. David Mooney, a professor of bioengineering at Harvard University, not involved in the study, remarked on the significance of the MIT team's work: "The formation of fibrotic tissue at the interface between implanted medical devices and the target tissue is a longstanding problem that routinely causes failure of the device. The demonstration that robust adhesion between the device and the tissue obviates fibrotic tissue formation is an important observation that has many potential applications in the medical device space," according to MIT News.

The research also hinted at mechanics playing a crucial role in immunological responses, a novel concept against the backdrop of traditionally chemistry-focused immunology. Zhao and his team are set on digging deeper into the impact of mechanical cues on the immune system. Moreover, Zhao, Yuk, and peers have begun a venture, SanaHeal, aiming to bring these tissue adhesives into further development for medical applications.

Supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, the MIT team's findings could signify a shift in medical device implantation, fostering advancements with wide-reaching impact for healthcare technologies.

Boston-Science, Tech & Medicine