Electroactive polymers (EAPs) consist of synthetic materials capable of changing dimensions and/or shape in response to an electrical input. They show useful actuation properties, such as sizable active strains and/or stresses, large compliance, low density, low power consumption and ease of processing. EAPs are here suggested to offer a promising technology for endowing biomaterials with intrinsic actuation capabilities, as a key functionality, poorly studied so far. Following a brief survey on fundamentals of dielectric elastomer (DE) actuation, as one of the best performing EAP technologies, this paper presents ongoing research in our laboratory to developed DE-based devices for tissue engineering. In particular, soft and electromechanically activated bioreactors with inherent cell stretching functions are being conceived. They are studied to deliver controllable mechanical stimuli to cell cultures, in order to regulate their developmental processes. The greatest promise of the considered technology relies on its high versatility, compliance, lightness and scalability, as well as low cost. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.
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