Putting squish into artificial organs

Doctors may someday routinely replace failed organs with substitutes made in a factory. One leading strategy for making artificial tissues is to supply a scaffold of a material, such as a biodegradable polymer, on which cells organize themselves into replacement body parts. However, most scaffold materials now available are much stiffer than natural, soft tissue. To confront that shortcoming, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made potential scaffold material by mimicking the microstructure of ordinary, vulcanized rubber. They call their new polymer biorubber.

In the June Nature Biotechnology, the team reports using glycerol, a common molecule in the body, and sebacic acid, which is the end product of certain foods after they’re eaten, as biorubber’s building blocks. The result, dubbed poly(glycerol-sebacate) or PGS, “really is a piece of rubber that’s biodegradable and biocompatible,” says Yadong Wang of the MIT team.

While physicians may eventually use biorubber in artificial lungs, blood vessels, and other tissues, the material may also end up in the body by another route. Wang says that two leading chewing gum makers are eyeing biorubber as a digestible alternative to today’s nonbiodegradable gums. What’s more, if a chewer were to spit biorubber gum onto the street, the goo would self-destruct after only a couple of months, Wang says.

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