An Unsung Medical Breakthrough

I just love surfing the website EurekAlert! to find scientific breakthroughs that really should be shouted from the rooftops, but are often getting lost in the stressful undertow of today’s drama-packed daily news cycle. This website gives me hope that science is still going strong and making positive differences in this world despite the anti-science climate in which we seem to be currently drowning.

The article that intrigued me the most today was one entitled, “Metal-ion breakthrough leads to new biomaterials”. I’ll do my best to break it down for you, because this is a discovery that could potentially save countless lives, and it could also have a positive impact on the environment. But if you’re truly interested after this post, I strongly encourage you to read the source article for more complex information. I’m just hitting the highest points here.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could repair skin, blood vessels, lungs, etc. with a rubber-like tissue that was soft and stretchy? Enter elastomers. They’re a polymer that, until this breakthrough, was very difficult to produce and wasn’t very versatile. But some Cornell engineers have come up with a way to make them more easily, and, by combining them with different metals, they’re also much more useful.

For example, by crosslinking a polymer with copper, they came up with an elastomer that encourages new vessel growth. On the other hand, combining copper and zinc has the potential to fight human aging. These scientists began experimenting by using 6 different metals, and also produced an elastomer mixed with calcium and magnesium. And the best part is that all these elastomers have different qualities and they’re all biodegradable, durable, and biocompatible.

There’s a lot of potential in this discovery. It could repair blood vessels and heart tissue, and improve soft tissue reconstruction and regeneration. Another exciting application could potentially be in the industrial field, making, for example, eco-friendly, biodegradable tires.

I love the feeling that we are on the brink of something really big. It’s exciting. It’s also comforting. We may be able to solve major problems after all.

True confession. This is a picture of elastomers, but not the ones we discussed above. You have no idea how hard it was for me to find a picture that was even remotely linked to this post. So… just enjoy the pretty colors and please be kind.

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