When you think of blood pumps, catheters, surgical implants, shunts or artificial joints, the last thing that likely comes to mind is metals that could cause harm to the environment. Yet, such medical devices, and a long list of other biomedical products, are made of silicone elastomers—a class of polymers that depend on metal catalysts during the manufacturing process. Small amounts of metal remain in the final product, some of which could leach out. Another shortcoming of these compounds is that they are extremely water repellent. This can sometimes cause uncontrollable and undesirable reactions when medical devices are implanted in people.
As part of her graduate studies at McMaster University, Talena Rambarran has set out to find more environmentally and water-friendly alternatives to silicone elastomers by capitalizing on a class of reactions known as Click chemistry—a concept inspired by nature. Click chemistry generates substances quickly and reliably by joining small units together, and is proving to be one of the most efficient and practical routes to prepare and modify small molecules, polymers and materials. As a recipient of a master’s level 2011 NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize, Rambarran will exploit a new, metal-free version of this reaction to create “greener” silicone elastomeric-type materials.
Rambarran’s research will expand fundamental knowledge of the exceptional physical properties of polymers. Most promising, this work could lead to a new generation of biomaterials that improve patient health and create economic opportunities for industry, while reducing risks to the environment.