Elastomeric polyamide biomaterials with stereochemically tuneable mechanical properties and shape memory

Joshua C. Worch, Andrew C. Weems, Jiayi Yu, Maria C. Arno, Thomas R. Wilks, Robert T. R. Huckstepp, Rachel K. O’Reilly, Matthew L. Becker & Andrew P. Dove
Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 3250 (2020) Cite this article


Biocompatible polymers are widely used in tissue engineering and biomedical device applications. However, few biomaterials are suitable for use as long-term implants and these examples usually possess limited property scope, can be difficult to process, and are non-responsive to external stimuli. Here, we report a class of easily processable polyamides with stereocontrolled mechanical properties and high-fidelity shape memory behaviour. We synthesise these materials using the efficient nucleophilic thiol-yne reaction between a dipropiolamide and dithiol to yield an α,β???unsaturated carbonyl moiety along the polymer backbone. By rationally exploiting reaction conditions, the alkene stereochemistry is modulated between 35–82% cis content and the stereochemistry dictates the bulk material properties such as tensile strength, modulus, and glass transition. Further access to materials possessing a broader range of thermal and mechanical properties is accomplished by polymerising a variety of commercially available dithiols with the dipropiolamide monomer.

The ability to rationally modulate the thermomechanical properties of polymeric materials by design is a fundamental aim of materials science. It is well known that stereochemistry of polymers dictates their bulk properties, but the importance of stereocontrol in polymer synthesis is often overlooked. For example, the naturally occurring isomers of polyisoprene—natural rubber and gutta-percha—display stereochemically dependent thermomechanical properties where the cis orientation of the alkene moiety disrupts chain packing and leads to a much softer, more amorphous material1,2. Such striking structure–property relationships are often found in stereochemically precise biopolymers, e.g., collagen or elastin, but there remain significant limitations in synthetically mimicking these complex biological materials3,4. Achieving control over stereochemical assembly of monomers into synthetic polymers, particularly backbone stereochemistry, could afford a simple platform from which to access a diverse range of materials properties. This is of particular importance when considering the unique mechanical needs of biomaterials operating in diverse physiological environments5,6.

Synthetic polymers have been used in medical devices for more than five decades, and key recent advances have largely focused on the development of biodegradable (or resorbable) materials for tissue engineering7. As such, the continued innovation of long-lasting non-resorbable polymers in joint and/or bone therapies, for example, are lagging behind and suffer from notable limitations such as wear, difficult processing, sterilisation or high cost. Nevertheless, polyamides have been a biomaterial of choice for decades and they have been extensively developed for applications ranging from use as sutures8,9 or membranes10 to vascular applications11 because of their toughness, low cost and outstanding biocompatibility12. Polyamides are also widely used in bone engineering as a consequence of the materials’ high strength and flexibility, which is due to the extensive degrees of both crystallinity and hydrogen bonding13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21. Even though this may be useful in selected orthopaedic or vascular applications, these types of materials are typically difficult to process and functionalise, which has ultimately limited their performance in other applications. An ideal durable biomaterial platform would incorporate the thermomechanical and biological performance of polyamides while displaying enhanced processability and advanced functionality, such as shape memory, for minimally invasive device designs.


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