Sugar-Based Low Molecular Weight Hydrogels from Alkyl Glycolipids

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University of Arizona researchers have created sugar-based low molecular weight hydrogels that spontaneously self-assemble through weak, noncovalent intermolecular interactions. These gels are thixotropic, biocompatible, and biodegradable. Despite being held together through non-covalent interactions, these hydrogels exhibit greater mechanical strength than other non-cross-linked hydrogels. These hydrogels are biocompatible and biodegradable since the materials are based on sugars. The other advantages of these low molecular weight hydrogels include resistance to acidic and salty environments, stability at human body temperature, and formation in water without requiring additives. These hydrogels are based on alkyl glycolipids which are readily produced in large quantities through a scalable, high-yield synthetic process.

Hydrogels have been utilized in many biomedical fields, including dermatology, drug delivery systems, stem cell delivery systems, bonding and coating systems, tissue engineering or repairing systems, wound healing, cell culture, etc.  One current field of study is concerned with tissue and tissue manipulation using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) compounds.  Another field of study is using biopolymer-based hydrogels as scaffolds or artificial extracellular matrices that provide growth spaces for cells from the viewpoint of tissue engineering. The scaffolds or artificial extracellular matrices allow cells to grow better or in desired directions for the purpose of tissue engineering. Some of the biopolymers currently used for producing hydrogels include polysaccharides such as glycogen, chitosan, cellulose, and hyaluronic acid. These biopolymers are often converted into hydrogels by physical crosslinking or irreversible chemical crosslinking. The process of cross-linking biopolymers to produce hydrogels results in high molecular weight hydrogels and requires additional time and cost.

Unlike high molecular weight hydrogels, low molecular weight gels (LMW) are composed of small molecules that aggregate via noncovalent interactions and form fibrous 3-D networks or porous structures that immobilize solvent. Thus, LMW gels do not need any cross-linking steps, and therefore, are less costly and time consuming. In addition, LMW gels are known to be thermoreversible, gel at low concentrations, and have high tolerance towards salts. LMW hydrogels are some of the most unique gels, as they are mainly composed of water; this allows their potential use in diverse applications in soft materials and biomaterials including drug delivery, cell growth, enzyme immobilization, and tissue engineering. Sugars have long been of interest for use in LMW hydrogels. However, common hydrogel compositions with functional properties utilizing sugars have relied on complex gelator molecules with relatively complex chemical syntheses or are based on materials harvested from natural sources requiring extensive effort. Therefore, there is a need for a simple method of producing LMW hydrogels using readily available sources.


  • Topical formations
  • Controlled release
  • Biomedicine
    • Drug delivery
    • Wound care
    • Tissue engineering
    • Cell culture
  • Metal chelation
  • Environmental science
    • Bio-tracer        
  • Particle encapsulation
  • Absorption


  • High storage modulus
  • Simple, scalable, high-efficiency production process
  • Biocompatible and biodegradable
  • Fast formation time
  • Direct formation in water without requiring additives
  • Stable at body temperature
Patent Information:
Contact For More Information:
Jonathan Larson
Senior Licensing Manager, College of Science
The University of Arizona
Lead Inventor(s):
Jeanne Pemberton
Laurel Kegel
Yu-Cheng Wang