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The Wonderful World of Hydrogels

colorful-hydrogel-ballsHow far away from a hydrogel are you? Chances are you’re not far at all. If you are wearing a contact lens, a hydrogel is helping you see. If you are balancing a baby on your lap, a hydrogel is likely keeping their bottom dry. You are probably a frequent user of hydrogels, but do you know the science behind them?

Hydrogels are hydrophilic, or water-loving, polymers that are capable of some pretty amazing feats. Their claim to fame is being able to absorb and retain a lot of water. This makes them ideal for applications in pharmaceuticals, wound care, hygiene, and optometry.

Hydrogel Properties

A desirable property of some hydrogels is their biocompatibility, meaning they can be used in the body without a negative response from the host. This makes them extremely useful in medicine and wound care. Other hydrogels are biodegradable, making them good candidates for consumer products. And still other specialized hydrogels are bioabsorbable, allowing them to be absorbed at a molecularly-engineered rate and assimilated back into the body.

Hydrogel Considerations

When opting for a hydrogel material, there are considerations that should be made. Hydrogel materials are viewed as expensive by some. Additionally, they can be a challenge to sterilize. Because sterilization is so important to prevent infection and contamination, this is especially important for those working in drug delivery and wound care applications.

Applications of Hydrogels

It’s hard to believe that such an amazing material–poised for such innovative potential–is likely part of your everyday experience. One common use of hydrogels is contact lenses. Contact lenses are made of silicone and hydrogels. Soft contact lenses have been a source of constant innovation for a few decades now. Contacts need to be hydrated to keep your eyes comfortable, and since the lenses come into direct contact with your eyes, they need to be biocompatible, so there’s no better option than a hydrogel.

Hydrogels are also used in drug delivery and wound care. In wound care, a moist healing environment is very important for moderate to severe wounds. Because hydrogels absorb and retain such a large amount of water, they are a great technology for this application and can also be used as a matrix to deliver medicaments to wounds.

One hydrogel product used in wound care is Theragauze. Theraguaze is used to help heal damaged skin in wounds as well as prevent infection. Hospital acquired infections are a huge concern and whenever the risks can be reduced it is always applicable for medical professionals.

To Infinity & Beyond, with Hydrogels

There’s no end in sight for the advancement of hydrogel innovation across industries. Because they’re biocompatible and bioabsorbent, hydrogels hold great promise for continued drug delivery and implantable medical devices. There are even 3-D printable hydrogels that show promise in knee surgery, where cushioning is so necessary. While this sort of research and development of hydrogel-based devices has already been done, decreasing costs mean we’re going to see them being used more and more.