While a variety of nano and microparticles have been designed for biomedical applications, each one has been uniquely engineered for a specific task. Different materials and manufacturing processes lead to specific shapes and textures of particles that are optimized to have unique abilities. Now a team of researchers from Purdue and Harvard universities have developed a technique that can produce a variety of microgel particles able to perform different tasks.
The microgels are made of polyNIPAAm polymers and sodium alginate, the two substances carefully brought together inside a microfluidic device. Droplets of this compound are deposited into a mixture of glycerol and barium acetate. As the barium acetate transforms the droplets into a gel with new chemical bonds holding it together, the glycerol actually forces the droplets to deform and take on different shapes. Adjusting the concentration of glycerol within the mixture affects the shape that the resulting microgels take on, as well as their texture, and properties such as transparency and surface color.
These Janus particles, as they are called due to their dual nature, can lead to new drug delivery solutions as be used in tissue engineering. Embedding them with magnetic nanoparticles can lead to highly targeted delivery vehicles that are controlled externally using a magnet.