Engineering professor works to make life easier for patients with medical implants


Dr. Jie Zheng, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor, recently received two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for research that will focus on the development of different functional biomaterials involved in medical implants. Together, the two grants total nearly $643,000.

A grant for $340,866 is helping Zheng’s lab to develop a better data-mining method for testing and designing antifouling materials for medical implants. Fouling, or in this case, biofouling, is the accumulation of unwanted organisms on almost all wet surfaces, which can cause damage to the bodies of patients with implanted medical devices. Zheng is looking to craft a material that can better prevent a person’s body from rejecting devices such as cardiac pacemakers when tiny unwanted organisms build up. 

Reducing risks

“Antifouling materials and coatings are critically important for biomedical implants because they will prevent any unwanted interactions and infections with biomolecules and thus reduce the risk of foreign body reaction in patients,” said Zheng.

A second grant acquired by Zheng for $302,078 will be used by his lab to produce a tough and self-healing adhesive hydrogel — a strong-wet materials composed of nearly all water — for implanted biosensors that can detect any force/light/temperature-induced optical and electric changes used in monitoring food safety and human tissue damage. Self-healing properties of such hydrogels can also be used in a variety of applications such as wound dressing and soft tissue substitutions.

Conventional wisdom challenges the prospect of being able to develop a hydrogel with both highly mechanical toughness and reversible self-healing and adhesive properties, which are two opposite properties in a single-network hydrogel, said Zheng. His research will focus on the development of a new family of hydrogels with two independent double network structures to achieve complete functionality.

Varied applications

“Once developed, the two polymer networks can also be used in the fabrication of strain sensors for human motion detection in medical applications,” Zheng said.

Zheng has been a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering for 11 years. Previously, he worked as a scientist at the National Cancer Institute. His research is driven by finding solutions for biomedical problems, including Alzheimer diseases and Type 2 diabetes, and is currently funded by four active NSF grants.

Media contact: Alex Knisely, 330-972-6477 or

Dr. Jie Zheng

Dr. Jie Zheng