It looks like any ordinary gel, but this hydrogel developed by University of Wollongong researchers may one day be used as a substitute for human tissue.
Cartilage replacement and spinal cord repair are the two main medical applications for the material being investigated by the UOW team, whose research was published this month in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Soft Matter.
Non-medical applications for the hydrogel include soft robots which could squeeze into tight spaces and be a valuable search-and-rescue tool in emergencies.
Associate Professor Marc in het Panhuis said the major breakthrough for the UOW team was in getting the material tough enough to absorb impact without permanent damage.
Most hydrogels - which include shower gels, toothpaste and contact lenses - have limited capabilities.
"Most synthetic materials we make, we can get them to match the elasticity of normal tissue but once they are damaged slightly they stop being useful," Prof in het Panhuis said. "But we have now developed a material that you can damage, and it can repair itself.
"This new family of gels are made up of common food additives - found in yoghurt and fruit juices - that we combine with another material which is similar to that found in contact lenses.
"This gives us a material that has very good properties for use in prosthetic devices - as a replacement for tissue - and many other new types of soft devices."
Prof in het Panhuis from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science is working with American visiting academic Professor Paul Calvert on the new materials, as well as with students from the School of Chemistry.
"The next step for us is to work with one of our collaborative partners, St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, to investigate the material's suitability for cartilage replacement," he said.
"We are confident that it's a nice stable material but researchers at the hospital will carry out animal trials to see how it interacts with human cells and ions in the body. Human testing would then be needed."
Other research teams from around the world - including a team at Harvard University - are also actively developing these new types of materials.