Researchers show how new hydrogel can facilitate microsurgery

Skillful surgeons can do amazing things in extremely small places, but finding better ways to suture tiny blood vessels has been an ongoing challenge for even the best.

University of Delaware researchers show how a new peptidebased hydrogel could one day make that reconnection process easier to perform and less likely to fail.

The new process uses a hydrogel developed by Daniel J. Smith. Other collaborators include Katelyn NagySmith, who has recently completed all requirements for her doctorate at UD, and Joel Schneider, who was a professor at UD and now is in the Chemical Biology Laboratory at the National Cancer Institute.

Also part of the study were researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Johns Hopkins.

Smith designed the peptide, building on a selfassembling process developed more than a decade ago by Schneider while he was a professor in UD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Darrin Pochan, professor and chair of UD’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

NagySmith did the microscopy, using a transmission electron microscope at the National Cancer Institute to show how the fibres change when exposed to ultraviolet light.

The way tiny vessels are reconnected now includes stitches applied in microsurgery. But the tiny, thinwalled vessels are fragile and prone to damage in handling.

The peptidebased hydrogel can be tuned in precise ways with a specific amino acid, allowing the material to change form several times during a procedure