Structured Macroporous Hydrogels: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities
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Structured macroporous hydrogels that have controllable porosities on both the nanoscale and the microscale offer both the swelling and interfacial properties of bulk hydrogels as well as the transport properties of "hard" macroporous materials. While a variety of techniques such as solvent casting, freeze drying, gas foaming, and phase separation have been developed to fabricate structured macroporous hydrogels, the typically weak mechanics and isotropic pore structures achieved as well as the required use of solvent/additives in the preparation process all limit the potential applications of these materials, particularly in biomedical contexts. This review highlights recent developments in the field of structured macroporous hydrogels aiming to increase network strength, create anisotropy and directionality within the networks, and utilize solvent-free or additive-free fabrication methods. Such functional materials are well suited for not only biomedical applications like tissue engineering and drug delivery but also selective filtration, environmental sorption, and the physical templating of secondary networks.
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