A new synthetic biomaterial has the potential to repair hearts, muscles, and vocal cords.

McGill University scientists create a biomaterial tough enough to repair the heart, muscles, and vocal cords by combining knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering, representing a significant advance in regenerative medicine.
“People recovering from heart condition frequently face an extended and difficult journey.” Healing is difficult because tissues must withstand constant movement because the heart beats. The same can be said for the vocal cords. “There was no injectable material strong enough for the job until now,” says Guangyu Bao, a PhD candidate in McGill University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Professor Luc Mongeau and Assistant Professor Jianyu Li led the team in developing a new injectable hydrogel for wound repair. A hydrogel is a type of biomaterial that allows cells to live and grow. When the biomaterial is injected into the body, it forms a stable, porous structure that allows live cells to grow or pass through to repair the injured organs.
“The results are promising,” says Guangyu Bao, “and we hope that at some point the new hydrogel are going to be used as an implant to revive the voice of individuals with damaged vocal cords, such as laryngeal cancer survivors.”
Putting it through its paces
The scientists put their hydrogel to the test during a machine they built to simulate the acute biomechanics of human vocal cords. The new biomaterial remained intact after vibrating at 120 times per second for over 6 million cycles, whereas other standard hydrogels fractured into pieces, unable to withstand the load’s stress.
“We were ecstatic to see that it worked flawlessly in our test.” There were no injectable hydrogels that had both high porosity and toughness prior to our work. “To address this issue, we added a pore-forming polymer to our formula,” Guangyu Bao explains.
According to the scientists, the breakthrough also opens up new possibilities for other applications such as drug delivery, tissue engineering, and the creation of model tissues for drug screening. The team is also considering using hydrogel technology to create lungs for testing COVID-19 drugs.
“Our work exemplifies the collaboration of materials science, engineering , and bioengineering within the development of novel biomaterials with unprecedented performance.” “We’re excited to place them into practise,” said Professor Jianyu Li, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biomaterials and Musculoskeletal Health.