Smart Polymeric Gels: Redefining the Limits of Biomedical Devices

Prog Polym Sci. 2007 Aug;32(8-9):1083-1122. doi: 10.1016/j.progpolymsci.2007.05.018.


This review describes recent progresses in the development and applications of smart polymeric gels, especially in the context of biomedical devices. The review has been organized into three separate sections: defining the basis of smart properties in polymeric gels; describing representative stimuli to which these gels respond; and illustrating a sample application area, namely, microfluidics. One of the major limitations in the use of hydrogels in stimuli-responsive applications is the diffusion rate limited transduction of signals. This can be obviated by engineering interconnected pores in the polymer structure to form capillary networks in the matrix and by downscaling the size of hydrogels to significantly decrease diffusion paths. Reducing the lag time in the induction of smart responses can be highly useful in biomedical devices, such as sensors and actuators. This review also describes molecular imprinting techniques to fabricate hydrogels for specific molecular recognition of target analytes. Additionally, it describes the significant advances in bottom-up nanofabrication strategies, involving supramolecular chemistry. Learning to assemble supramolecular structures from nature has led to the rapid prototyping of functional supramolecular devices. In essence, the barriers in the current performance potential of biomedical devices can be lowered or removed by the rapid convergence of interdisciplinary technologies.