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A system to reliably access the elastic modulus of 3D precision manufactured soft materials for drug screening

High quality drug screening is essential for time and cost-efficient drug discovery and future personalized medicine. Key missing features of commercially available screening solutions are (a) the lack of a human-like 3D tissue microenvironment and the complex organization of multiple cells into organ tissue (organoids) to simulate proper organ function and (b) an understanding of the behaviour of such soft materials. This project contributes to the latter issue by developing a highly reliable method achieving high repeatability in measuring the elastic modulus of a phantom soft material in a 3D printed structure (specifically hydrogel).

Student

Mohammad Khalili

Supervisor

Jose Endrino

The aim of this research is to develop a measurement system to determine the mechanical properties of 3D printed hydrogel structures using various techniques and compare them for their accuracy and repeatability. 

There are a number of challenges in investigating hydrogels including the necessity of hydration (wet media) and small sample size (few microns), that compounds further with its visco-elastic (non-linear) properties. Previous masters projects have reviewed a number of technologies and a prototype design to measure the elastic modulus of 3D printed hydrogels samples was proposed. Work has progressed on developing a microfluidic approach using microfluidics and also using contact measurements. This enables the measurement of deformation from the top, while the hydrogel is hydrated and actuated by fluid pressure.

The objectives are to review and refine one or more designs for characterising hydrogel and extract useful information on the stress-strain behaviour and deformation data of hydrogel. Aside from this, the aging effect is equally important, for instance the changes in the property behaviour over time will also be examined in sample time intervals. It is important to understand the material well and to confirm if it is functional over a long period without significant changes in properties or to understand and predict the behaviour over the same period. Further characterisation will be conducted with a range of environments and, if possible, a range of configurations for a full proof testing of both hydrogel behaviour and the ideal characterisation method and protocol.

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