Traditional hydrogels based on linear are interesting materials that have significant utility in multiple biological and biomedical applications. However, it is often a challenge to simultaneously control a gel’s chemical, biological, and mechanical properties, as optimizing polymer composition to maximize one property inherently limits the tunability of any others.
MIT MRSEC researchers have developed a novel hydrogel based on bottle-brush polymers, where gelation is driven by the formation of ionic bonds between charged end groups at the tips of the polymers. Bottle-brush polymer gels exhibit different mechanical characteristics than linear gels of the same composition, allowing for a new design handle to manipulate multiple gel properties simultaneously.
Due to their unique morphology, bottle-brush polymers behave as discrete entities in aqueous solution (Figure 2a), resulting in fewer interchain entanglements. Bottle-brush based hydrogels are therefore of higher porosity (Figure 2b). This unique property holds great potential in the area of bioengineering, where increased pore sizes should better enable cell migration and nutrient flow. As a result, these gels are uniquely suited materials for applications in developmental biology and regenerative medicine as tissue scaffolds.