Imagine a cardiovascular stent that is one shape when it’s inserted surgically, and then another when it expands inside a blood vessel, reacting to a patient’s body heat. This type of innovative treatment may be closer to reality than we thought, thanks to pioneering research at Syracuse and Bucknell universities.

Surgical procedureSurgical and wound healing breakthroughs may be on the horizon thanks to a new polymer material.

The material is a new kind of shape memory polymer that could have a major impact on health care. Syracuse University STEM News describes SMPs as “soft, rubbery, smart materials that can change shape in response to external stimuli like temperature changes or exposure to light. They can hold each shape indefinitely and turn back when triggered to do so.”

The specific variety of SMP developed by Syracuse and Bucknell researchers is a polymer that is compatible with living cells and changes shape when responding to enzyme exposure. It doesn’t need any additional trigger or outside stimulus to function. With properties like these, the researchers believe it can respond directly to certain cell behaviors like the healing of wounds.

The SMP research team’s study, “Enzymatically triggered shape memory polymers,” was first published in Acta Biomaterialia in January.

Wound care role

The type of wound treatment that this SMP makes possible sounds a little bit like something out of science fiction. The physical changes it produces are comparable to a self-actuating wound dressing.

“You could place it over a wound, and as the tissue remodeled and degraded it, the SMP would slowly pull the wound closed,” research team member Shelby Buffington explained. “It could be adapted to play a role in treating infections and cancer by adjusting the material’s chemistry.”

Potential for cancer treatment and pharmaceuticals

The team next plans to investigate cancer and macrophage cell cultures with the goal of uncovering practical uses for their SMP. They hope to utilize lower enzyme concentrations, created with less extreme cellular activity. According to Professor James Henderson, future uses for the material may include drugs that activate only when particular cells or an organ are in the correct physiological state, in scaffolds that guide tissue regeneration and in decision-making biosensors that can assist patient treatment.

SMP treatments like the ones described here may take some time before they’re put into actual practice in the medical field. In the meantime, if you need wound care supplies, talk to your doctor about smartPAC by Advanced Tissue to get your prescribed products delivered straight to your front door.