Latest synthetic hydrogel can heal damaged skin

3 May 2019

Image: © ヨコデジ/

This week, in a special life sciences edition of the Future Tech Round-up, there’s a new gel that can regrow damaged skin and blood vessels.

A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has announced the development of a gel that helps new soft tissue and blood vessels to grow – where some had been lost – in test animals.

Publishing its findings in Science Translational Medicine, the team said it used a biodegradable polymer to forge nanofibres. When bound with hyaluronic acid, it created an easily injectable gel that could create the scaffolding necessary for the lost tissue to regenerate.

While the fibres are only about one-100th the diameter of a human hair, they still had to be cut up so that they would mix with the gel. The researchers now hope to test this composite in patients with soft-tissue deficits within a year.

“We are really excited about this material as it provides a good foundation for other types of studies and uses in the future,” said researcher Sashank Reddy.

Drones to start delivering vaccines to rural Ghana

The tech giants of the world that dabble in e-commerce are eager to see a world where small drones deliver packages right to their customers’ doorstep. However, it isn’t all about making money, as seen in a recent MIT Technology Review piece.

The article revealed how the Global Vaccine Alliance has created a drone delivery service for vital medicine in Ghana. Partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer and others, the aid agency is able to get deliveries of vaccines to one of its centres in a short amount of time using the machines.

Rather than storing vaccines for long stretches of times in less-than-ideal environments – such as the sweltering heat of Ghana – vaccines are never over-ordered and are quickly given out to the local population. By being able to order in more vaccines using a drone in a short amount of time, they can cater to more people.

Director general of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, said he and the country’s president were impressed by the technology following a trial in mountainous Rwanda in 2016. This new service means “people with bad roads, flooding and other infrastructure problems will receive drugs they need”, he said.

Self-powered, stretchy wearable tech is in the works

A team of scientists at Michigan State University has found a way to create seriously stretchy wearable tech using crumpled nanotube (CNT) forests.

In a paper published to Advanced Energy Materials, the team described its newly developed supercapacitor, which demonstrated solid performance and stability, even when stretched to 800pc of its original size for thousands of stretching and relaxing cycles.

“The key to success is the innovative approach of crumpling vertically aligned CNT arrays, or CNT forests,” said Changyong Cao, who led the team. “Instead of having a flat thin film strictly constrained during fabrication, our design enables the three-dimensionally interconnected CNT forest to maintain good electrical conductivity, making it much more efficient, reliable and robust.”

The crumpled standing nanotubes do indeed grow like trees, with their canopies tangled on wafers. However, this forest is no more than 30 micrometres high.

New organic solar cells immune to water, air and light

Organic solar cells that don’t require the mass extraction of raw finite materials from the Earth could the be the future; however, current designs are extremely vulnerable to moisture, oxygen and even sunlight itself.

But now, a team of engineers at New York University has discovered a remarkable means of making organic solar panels more robust, including conferring resistance to oxygen, water and light by doing the opposite: removing, not adding, material.

Publishing its findings to ACS Energy Letters, the team described a process similar to waxing hair, whereby they used an adhesive tape to strip electron-accepting molecules from the topmost surface of the photoactive layer of the solar cell, leaving only non-reactive organic polymers exposed. This reduces the chance of encounters with oxidation sources such as oxygen molecules and water.

“If you look at the obvious use case for solar panels, you have to make sure organic photovoltaics can compete against silicon on rooftops, in rain and snow,” said researcher André Taylor. “This is where organic solar cells simply have not been able to compete for a long time. We are showing a pathway to making this possible.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic