The elasticity of a biodegradable, metal-ion elastomer is demonstrated. (Credit: Cornell University)

Engineers have developed a new framework that makes elastomer design a modular process, allowing for the mixing and matching of different metals with a single polymer. They incorporated copper into a vascular graft because of its role in inducing angiogenesis — the process by which new blood vessels grow from existing ones.

The key breakthrough was crosslinking the polymer with copper ions using chelating ligands (molecules that tightly bind a metal ion using two or more bonds). Because one ligand can bind multiple metal ions, it can yield a wide range of mechanical properties — such as stiffness and toughness — as well as biomedical properties. They engineered six unique elastomers using one polymer and six different metals, and then made a seventh elastomer using a calcium-magnesium mix. It was the first time anyone had demonstrated a biodegradable metalion elastomer. The team also performed mechanical and biocompatibility experiments on their elastomers, testing for the materials’ stress, strain, and ability to be used with living tissue.

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