From theory to application: research funded by the DFG

image: Hydrogels with different levels of stiffness used for culturing mammalian cells in 2D (left) and 3D (right) environments
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Credit: photo/©: Marie Weinhart, Leibniz University Hannover

German Research Foundation approves second funding period for study of polymer gels with controlled network structure / New focus on biomaterials applications

The Research Unit on Adaptive Polymer Gels with Controlled Network Structure (FOR 2811) has started its work in a second phase. At the end of a first stage of the project dominated by fundamental theoretical work, the former seven and today eight partners are beginning to address the application aspects of their approach in this new funding period. “It is great news that the German Research Foundation is continuing to fund our project for another three years. Our initial phase has been overshadowed by the pandemic and thus the closure of the laboratories,” said Professor Sebastian Seiffert, holder- group speech at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. (JGU), pointed out. “In this follow-up research phase, we will focus on potential applications, particularly targeting biomaterials in this context.” The German Research Foundation has made 2.3 million euros available to the project partners for their research.

Polymers are substances or materials made up of many often identical building blocks – for example, proteins and plastics. FOR 2811 researchers focus on soft polymers consisting of both hydrophobic and hydrophilic components. These components together form a shared network structure and can swell when exposed to water or organic solvents, making them permeable to a range of different substances. Polymer gels like this are therefore suitable for use in a wide variety of applications. They could be used, for example, as switchable cell substrates or as antimicrobial coatings.

Close collaboration guarantees new perspectives

At the start of their work, the partners focused on understanding the basic characteristics of the nanostructures and microstructures of polymer gels. Seiffert explained their approach: “We first had to understand how the gel structures form. Is this perhaps attributable to the way they are generated or perhaps to the prevailing ambient conditions around them?” The way the gel structures are formed can determine the characteristics of the corresponding materials, such as their mechanical properties or their transport capacity.

Now that researchers have sufficiently explored the nature of the underlying so-called amphiphilic co-lattices and published papers about it, they are beginning to focus on hardware design. They will mainly focus on biomaterials that can be used, for example, to design tissues for biotechnological or biomedical applications. Here, cooperating partners work closely together. “We complement each other perfectly in terms of expertise, we bring together all our know-how and interconnect our different sub-projects,” added Seiffert, professor of physical chemistry of polymers at JGU. “It would not have been possible through individual, independent projects to obtain our new knowledge of amphiphilic co-networks.” In addition to the JGU team, also participating are researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Polymer Research in Dresden (IPF), Friedrich Schiller University Jena, University of Stuttgart, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Technical University Darmstadt – and now included in the second funding period – Leibniz University Hannover.

In DFG-funded research units, outstanding and recognized specialists in their fields team up to undertake promising research assignments. At the same time, related projects must be of a particular academic quality and originality that makes them relevant in an international context.

Related links: – Research unit DFG 2811 – Adaptive polymer gels with model-network structure at JGU; – Physico-Chemistry of Polymers Group at JGU; – Details of the DFG 2811 research unit project

Read more: – press release “Researchers from the University of Mainz involved in a federally funded seawater desalination project in the Persian Gulf” (June 9, 2021); – press release “The German Research Foundation funds a new research unit examining the microstructure of adaptive polymer gels” (June 5, 2019)

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