The potential use of light-degradable hydrogels in gastrointestinal (GI) procedures was explored in a recent study by Dr Ritu Raman and colleagues, which was published on Jan 17 in the scientific journal Science Advances.

Various medical devices are inserted into the GI tract for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment. In many cases, these devices need to be retrieved later by an endoscopic procedure. The use of materials that can be triggered to disintegrate would eliminate the need for this invasive removal procedure.

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In this study, the researchers developed a light-sensitive hydrogel that degrades in the GI tract following light exposure from an ingestible light-emitting diode (LED). A hydrogel is a network of polymer chains that are commonly used in tissue engineering.

Researchers used the light-degradable hydrogel to make two GI medical devices, a bariatric balloon and oesophagal stent. Bariatric balloons are used for weight loss, where an inflated balloon is left in the stomach for up to six months.

The oesophagal stent is a tube that is used to open a blocked region in the oesophagus and may be used in patients with oesophagal cancer. In both cases, the device is normally removed after a set period of time through an endoscopic procedure.

According to this study, the need for an invasive endoscopic procedure may be eliminated by the use of light-degradable hydrogels.

Researchers examined the performance of the light-degradable medical devices in pigs and showed that these devices were functional and readily degradable following light exposure from an ingestible LED. The advantages of using light include the fact that it is easily controlled, does not need to come into direct physical contact with the medical device, and does not interfere with or damage the surrounding tissue.

As technology improves and demands, less invasive procedures grows, it will be interesting to see how hydrogels and other similar degradable materials will be incorporated into various medical devices in the future.