What is a hydrogel?
A hydrogel is defined as a three-dimensional (3D) network of hydrophilic polymers that can expand and retain a large amount of water and maintain its structure, due to interaction between the polymer chains of which it is composed. Natural hydrogels such as collagen exist, but they can also be produced synthetically. They are used to manufacture contact lenses, hygiene products and wound dressings, and in drug administration and tissue engineering.
Prototype with UPC technology
The researchers of the Molecular and Industrial Biotechnology Group (GBMI) of the
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have developed a new method for producing hydrogels for treating chronic wounds and, in general, improving skin care.
The new method that has been developed is simple, fast and versatile and is based on
self-assembly in-situ of biopolymers and functional nanoparticles. These nanoparticles of natural phenolic compounds with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties have the dual role of functional and structural elements within the hydrogel matrix.
With this method, the UPC researchers have developed a hydogel prototype that has been validated for use in the treatment of chronic wounds. Chronic wounds, such as ulcers of patients in the decubitus position or those with diabetes, require intensive, expensive medical care as they have a high bacterial load and inflamed tissue. The products that currently exist in the market to treat chronic wounds are aimed at palliative care and are limited to absorbing the exudate of wounds and maintaining a humid environment that helps wound healing. The most advanced products release some antimicrobial agent, for example, silver salts, whose cell toxicity is widely recognised. These active principles do not have an impact on other biochemical aspects that affect the complexity of chronic wounds.
Therefore, the formulation of this multifunctional hydrogel is based on hyaluronic acid
modified and enriched with hybrid nanoparticles of metal and lignin. These particles give the hydrogel excellent antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. At the same time, they enable regulation of the activity of oxidative and proteolytic enzymes involved in wound chronicity.
Benefits of hydrogel self-assembly
Self-assembly hydrogel technology enables various polymers and nanoparticles to be used to create a specific hydrogel for the skin application that is required. For example, essential oils, biomolecules or even cells for tissue regeneration can be incorporated into the nanoparticles. By adapting the proportions of the elements in the gel – biopolymers and nanoparticles – hydrogels are obtained with specific mechanical properties for their application in different formats (dressings, films, coatings, creams, etc.).
The most important benefits of nanocomposite hydrogels are:
· The active components (nanoparticles) are also structural elements that promote self-assembly of the hydrogel.
· The many bio-activities: antioxidant, inhibition of enzymes that cause wound chronicity and antimicrobial activity.
· Controlled release of bioactive nanoagents present in the hydrogel help to avoid toxicity and prolong the activity.
· The preparation method is simple and environmentally friendly.
· The product is safe for use in humans and biomedical applications.
The technology has been validated in-vivo in an animal model and its efficacy was shown for skin regeneration. In addition, haematological analyses have confirmed the absence of inflammation in the wound.
This technology is available for use under license (the patent was deposited in 2021) or through a collaboration agreement.