Because we’re primarily an undergraduate institution, students here get to work side by side with their professors. I didn’t have opportunities like these.

Brandon Vogel

Hydrogels are polymers that swell to many times their weight in water. From forming contact lenses to improving disposable diapers, hydrogels have a wide range of applications. Professor Brandon Vogel, chemical engineering, and his team are using the substances to better detect, target and treat disease.

Vogel and his students are working on a hydrogel formulation that can be loaded with a drug and then injected into the body. Part of their challenge is to devise a hydrogel that remains a stable liquid until injection. At that time, a chemical reaction must occur to turn the hydrogel precursor into a hydrogel that remains in place and delivers the drug.  Once the medications are dispersed, Vogel's hydrogels are designed to break down and dissolve away.

Vogel's team works with neuroscientists and neurosurgeons at Geisinger Medical Center in nearby Danville to use drug-loaded hydrogels for innovative treatments. "We are pairing with researchers to leverage each other's strengths for the treatment of chronic pain and of a certain type of cancer known as glioblastoma – basically, micro-tumors in the brain," he says. It's challenging to design materials to interact with and remain close to nerve tissue because most hydrogels expand as they swell, he explains. In this case, expansion would put pressure on nerves, resulting in more pain or damage to the tissue being treated.  

Vogel's students work closely with Geisinger medical professionals and get to see their research impacting the lives of real patients. "It's something few undergraduates get to experience," he explains. "And because we're primarily an undergraduate institution, students here get to work side by side with their professors. It's not a typical research institution. I didn't have opportunities like these."

Posted Sept. 22, 2014

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