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New polymer foam shows promise to make artificial organs

A new lightweight, stretchable material with the consistency of memory foam could be used to make artificial organs, researchers say.

The foam could also be used to make prosthetic body parts and soft robotics. 

The polymer material, developed by scientists at Cornell University, can be formed and has connected pores that allow fluids to be pumped through it.

“We are currently pretty far along for making a prosthetic hand this way,” said Rob Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and senior author of a paper to be published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Benjamin Mac Murray, a graduate student in Shepherd’s lab, is the paper’s first author.

The material starts out as a liquid that can be poured into a mould to create shapes, and because of the pathways for fluids, when air or liquid is pumped through it, the material moves and can change its length by 300%.

The researchers have demonstrated how the foam works by creating a pump shaped like a heart, using carbon fibre and silicone to make the external structure.

“This paper was about exploring the effect of porosity on the actuator, but now we would like to make the foam actuators faster and with higher strength, so we can apply more force. We are also focusing on biocompatibility,” Shepherd said.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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