When cut, the material's molecules re-bond at body temperature. Photo by University of Reading
READING, England, April 8 (UPI) -- A plastic-like material that "flows" back together when cut or scraped could lead to self-healing bandages and cellphones that never stay scuffed, according to scientists in England.
A supramolecular polyurethane created by scientists at the University of Reading repairs itself at body temperature and is not toxic to humans, suggesting it could lead to better wound dressings, among other uses.
The material was found to be strong enough to survive extreme stretch tests, but when chunks of it are cut and exposed to mild heat, the material's molecules slowly meld back together into a solid piece.
"This material could maintain a sterile barrier as part of a wound dressing while constantly repairing and renewing itself, reducing the need for replacement," Wayne Hayes, a professor at the University of Reading, said in a press release. "It could even be adapted to naturally break down over time, similar to dissolvable stitches, making it suitable for internal use in surgery as well as for dressing wounds."
For a study on the material, published in the journal Chemical Science, the scientists found the material can repair itself at the human body's natural temperature, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
The scientists tested the material for effects against human skin cells, finding it had little, if any, difference in effect to cells not exposed to it. Adhesion and self-healing were also successfully tested on pig skin without damaging it, the scientists reported.
In vehicle paint, mobile phone coatings, countertops or any number of surfaces that get damaged, the self-healing plastic could outlast traditional materials, though the medical industry may benefit first as Hayes calls it "an ideal material for use in healthcare settings."