Sustainable developmentPublished on 21.09.2020

Hydrogel project to benefit rural communities

The Adolphe Merkle Institute BioNanomaterials group has been awarded over CHF 24,000 in seed funding by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation for a collaborative project with Costa Rica’s National Laboratory of Nanotechnology on 3D hydrogel printing.

The funded project builds on earlier studies carried out at AMI involving the slime of Costa Rican velvet worm. The slime is a composite material formed by a protein matrix and vesicles containing inorganic salts, with the strength of petroleum-derived polymers such as nylon, but also with the added advantages of being protein-based and biodegradable. It has been considered a potential model to formulate new bio-inspired materials to replace petroleum-derived plastics such as polyester or acrylics.

The aim is to develop a potential first application inspired by the worm slime’s unique hydrogel gelling and fast drying mechanism – an accessible and simple 3D printing system. In recent years, the use of hydrogels combined with 3D-printing has revolutionized the field of biomaterials, allowing for the customized fabrication of functional hydrogel scaffolds for tissue engineering, delivery systems, implants, diagnostic devices, and soft electronics. The project’s ambitious goal is to provide, for the first time, developing rural developing communities with access to customized hydrogels for their medical care requirements.

The hydrogel formulation and instrument development will be carried out in Costa Rica, while 3D-printing, nanocarrier synthesis and characterization, and development of stimuli-responsive materials will take place in Switzerland at the Adolphe Merkle Institute.

The Seed Money Grants awarded by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation are aimed at strengthening or initiating scientific exchange between Swiss and – in this case - Latin American researchers and institutions by enabling them to jointly undertake preliminary research and organize meetings, conferences, or workshops.