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Bioengineer Has Designs on Creating Smart Adhesives for Human Tissue
Jonsson School Professor Receives CAREER Award for Project That May Lead to Improved Medical Devices
July 19, 2018
Dr. Taylor Ware
The highly selective grant supports early career researchers who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar and offers an opportunity for junior faculty to jump-start independent research.
Ware’s research project, titled “Designing Microscale, Shape-Morphing Liquid Crystal Elastomers as Tissue Adhesives,” will receive nearly $500,000 over the next five years.
Ware, a UT Dallas alumnus who earned a master’s degree in materials science and engineering in 2011 and a doctorate in 2013, aims to design “smart” materials that can stick to the soft, wet and moving tissues of the human body. While traditional glues rely on chemical bonds, these new adhesives will rely on mechanical bonding, similar to how hook-and-loop tape fasteners work.
Whereas hook-and-loop tape sticks to fabric, these materials will use shape-changing structures about the size of a human hair to switch on and off the adhesion to soft tissue. The adhesives could be used in devices that are intended to heal wounds and deliver drugs.
To achieve this goal, Ware will investigate the use of liquid crystal elastomers, which are materials that undergo controlled shape change when they are heated or cooled. Currently, the use of these materials is limited in biomedical applications — limitations that Ware hopes to overcome.
“The challenges in using liquid crystal elastomers are not small. The transition temperature of these materials is currently too high for use in biomedical applications, shape change is difficult to program in 3D microscale structures, and the biodegradability of these materials is uncontrolled,” Ware said.
Ware and his lab, which principally focuses on creating smart materials, will tackle these issues one by one.
“If successful, this work will engender broader impact in society by enabling a novel class of soft tissue adhesives. Soft tissue adhesives are needed for a wide variety of medical devices from wound healing aides to internal drug delivery patches, where intimate and persistent contact with soft tissues is critical.”
First, they must synthesize liquid crystal elastomers with other materials that offer controlled biodegradability. These smart materials must then be modified so that they change shape at more suitable temperatures and in such a way that they better adhere to model tissues.
“If successful, this work will engender broader impact in society by enabling a novel class of soft tissue adhesives,” Ware said. “Soft tissue adhesives are needed for a wide variety of medical devices from wound healing aides to internal drug delivery patches, where intimate and persistent contact with soft tissues is critical.”
For example, a common cause of postoperative pain and recurrence in hernia prolapse repair surgeries can be attributed to poor adhesion between soft tissues and supporting devices.
“Nearly 1 million of these interventions are performed in the U.S. each year. As such, improved tissue adhesives are a critical missing component to reducing health care-related costs and improving quality of life,” he said.
Ware’s research also is supported by a Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) grant that he received in 2017 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The grant provides $360,000 over three years.
Ware’s YIP project, “Designing Microstructure in Ordered Polymer Actuators,” also seeks to improve the nature of liquid crystal elastomers. In this work, Ware hopes to synthesize liquid crystal polymers that are capable of both changing shape and carrying a heavy load.
“We are working hard in our research lab,” he said. “This support from both the NSF and Air Force has allowed us to investigate projects that, if successful, will develop a fundamental understanding of how to manipulate these materials for better performance in both health care and defense.”
Before joining UT Dallas in 2015, Ware completed postdoctoral training at the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory. He was a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and is also a member of several professional societies, co-inventor on five patents, and author or co-author of more than 40 scientific publications.
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