“We are working with biodegradable polymers because they are non-toxic and capable of a controlled rate of degradation,” said Bettinger, assistant professor of materials science and biomedical engineering at CMU. “In the case of drug delivery, we find that the polymer slowly degrades into smaller fragments, releasing a natural product in a controlled environment.”
One of the challenges Bettinger and his team face is controlling the rate at which water can get into the polymers. “We’ve found that the environment surrounding the polymer is different depending on the location in the body,” he said.
To help make these biomedical devices more efficient, Bettinger’s research team is investigating materials and fabrication strategy for the use of organic thin film transistors to assist in biomedical applications. Organic thin film transistor technology involves the use of organic semiconducting compounds in biomedical components.
What Bettinger’s team has discovered is that the integration of electronic devices in aqueous environments provides numerous opportunities and challenges — something that may be familiar to anyone who has ever dropped a cell phone in a bathtub or toilet.
“We found that by combining small-molecular semiconductors and biodegradable polymers it allows for potential electronic functionality in biodegradable medical implants that has previously been unattainable,” Bettinger said.
Bettinger received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 2003, a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2004, and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in 2008 as a Charles Stark Draper Fellow, all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University in the Department of Chemical Engineering as an NIH Ruth Kirschstein Fellow in 2010. He has also received many career accolades, including the American Chemical Society’s AkzoNobel Award for Polymer Chemistry and the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Society Young Investigator Award. He also is a co-inventor on several patents and a finalist in the MIT $100,000 Entrepreneurship Competition.
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