Introduction to Hydrogels 

Hydrogels, better known as water-swollen polymer networks, have become a focal point of interest among researchers and innovators due to their exceptional properties. The word ‘hydrogel’ was first coined in 1894. A hydrogel is a type of material that consists of two phases: a porous, permeable web of polymer chains and a fluid that fills the pores. The fluid is mostly or entirely water, and it makes up at least 10% of the material’s weight or volume. The solid part of the hydrogel is a three-dimensional network of natural or synthetic polymers that does not dissolve in water. Hydrogels have various applications, especially in biomedicine. Some hydrogels are made from natural sources, while others are artificially created.

The interesting part of hydrogels is that they are equipped with a fascinating tunability. Scientists are able to adjust various properties—stiffness, porosity, and degradation rate—to customize them for various applications, making them incredibly versatile tools in cell biology research. Consequently, these materials present a promising platform, showcasing their versatility in cell biology, tissue engineering, and now, even in the realm of nanoparticle analysis.

Hydrogels are well known for Cell Culture

In cell biology and regenerative medicine, hydrogels stand out for their biocompatibility. Hydrogels can closely mimic the body’s natural extracellular matrix, offering an environment that supports cell growth and function. Their high-water content and similarity to biological tissues create an ideal setting for cells to thrive within this biomimetic structure. Moreover, the porous structure of hydrogels allows the exchange of vital substances like nutrients, oxygen, and waste products, facilitating cell sustenance by enabling essential molecules to diffuse through the gel matrix.

Hydrogels also offer a protective microenvironment, shielding immobilized cells from external stresses, potentially enhancing cell viability and function. They are moldable, allowing for easy encapsulation and manipulation of cells into desired shapes and sizes. Their in-situ formation capability enables direct application to targeted tissues or areas of interest, proving beneficial in various biomedical applications.

NanoQNT’s Revolutionary Use of Hydrogels to Immobilize Nanoparticles

In the field of nanoparticle analysis, Dispertech has introduced a new way to use hydrogels. The process involves the preparation of a hydrogel that immobilizes fluorescently labelled nanoparticles. The optical setup employs a laser light sheet to illuminate a thin slice of the hydrogel. Using an accurate piezo, the hydrogel can be displaced with nanometre precision, making it possible to scan the volume of the hydrogel slice by slice. Each time that the hydrogel is displaced, a camera captures an image of the excited nanoparticles emitting fluorescence light onto the camera sensor.

This method allows for the rapid and precise determination of nanoparticle concentrations based on faint fluorescence signals. Custom software is built to collate image data and count the fluorescent spots on each captured image. Dispertech’s method utilizing the unique attributes of a hydrogel is a revolutionary approach to quantify nanoparticle concentrations and extends to a broad spectrum of nanoparticles, including extracellular vesicles, lipid nanoparticles, viruses, polymeric nanoparticles and other nanoparticles.

Concluding remarks

From providing a nurturing environment for cells to thrive in tissue engineering to enabling precise and rapid nanoparticle analysis, hydrogels have become an indispensable tool in advancing biomedical research and applications. In conclusion, the diverse and advantageous properties of hydrogels have positioned them as a cornerstone in various scientific disciplines. Dispertech’s innovative use of hydrogels in the NanoQNT system is just one example of how these materials continue to revolutionize scientific methodologies, opening doors to new possibilities and discoveries.


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