Artificial cartilage moves step closer

SPORTS enthusiasts fearing for their knee longevity might be able to take advantage of artificial cartilage in the future, thanks to research from two Kiama Downs residents.

This solution is one of several possible future uses for hydrogels and Professor Marc in het Panhuis and chemistry student Paul Balding are part of a team from the University of Wollongong investigating the material.

Hydrogels are polymer materials like toothpaste or contact lenses, which are 99 per cent water, but do not dissolve.

They have been compared with 'tissue mimics' because they are elastic like tissue, however until recently, they have lacked the toughness of ordinary human tissue under force.

Prof in het Panhuis, who moved to the area six years ago, said the team had been successful in strengthening a hydrogel to cope with repeated impacts and return to its original shape. The team has three patents pending.

"It's a nice buzz to get," he said.

"At the moment, we're looking into how it copes in a warm place, similar to the conditions of the human body . . . so we know how it degrades and whether it's toxic and we've found it's not toxic."

Mr Balding, who was raised in Kiama Downs, said his role involved making the material with different ingredients, testing the samples, and passing on the data.

"I could see it benefiting people I know," the 22-year-old chemistry student said.

Prof in het Panhuis said the hydrogel provided an opportunity to create a new way of treating spinal injuries or to create soft tissue robots capable of squeezing into small places.

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