A new class of gel-based sponges can be molded to any shape, soak up drugs or stem cells, shrink down and be injected into the body, where they inflate to their original size and leak out their contents. They work kind of like those “dinosaur egg” sponges you can get at museum gift shops, where contact with water inflates little pellets into soft dino-shapes. Only they’ll be inside your body.
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Bioengineers at Harvard and Caltech designed the sponges, which are primarily made from alginate, a gel made from algae. They can be molded into any shape or size and contain large pores, which allow liquids and large molecules to pass through. The pores can also hold cells, proteins and small-molecule drugs, which can then pass into the body when the alginate starts to break down.
They could be promising new tissue scaffolds at sites of injury or infection, according to David J. Mooney, a bioengineering professor at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They could transplant stem cells, bulk up tissue that’s been lost or degenerated, or even transplant immune cells, Mooney said. Because they can be built to any shape--the team made hearts, stars and squares--they could theoretically be used for any size or shape area in the body.
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