3-D Self-assembled Peptide Hydrogels

BACKGROUND Pre-designed self-assembling scaffolds are highly advantageous in a number of areas, including tissue regeneration, 3D cell culture, in vitro toxicity testing and understanding of cell/extracellular matrix interactions. Self-assembling peptides, with the various properties of amino acids (biological compatibility; bonded structure), are very powerful building blocks for the fabrication of self-assembling scaffolds. Dr. Rein Ulijn of the School of Materials at the University of Manchester has developed peptide-based biomaterials with controllable properties that can self-assembly either in response to an enzyme or other stimulus (pH switch; ionic strength). THE TECHNOLOGY This approach in chemical self-assembly is a departure from convention for three main reasons: (1) Thermodynamically-controlled enzyme reactions assist self-assembly. In biological contexts, enzyme reactions are commonly found as triggers for multi-stage self-assembly processes (e.g. in blood clotting), to avoid defects in self assembled structures.
(2) Smaller biomolecule building blocks compared to competing technologies. This is possible through exploiting a new self-assembly mechanism that combines the attractive interactions of π-conjugated molecules with hydrogen bonding capabilities of peptides (fig. 2). The use of much smaller building blocks enables much more flexibility in design. Changes on the molecular level translate into observable changes on the macroscopic level (morphology, mechanical properties). (3) Incorporation of bioactive epitopes to modify properties, e.g. bioadditives such as RGD to improve cell adhesion. KEY BENEFITS
• Hydrogels are stable at biologically acceptable conditions
• Short peptide chains allow design flexibility and can be easily tailored
• biologically functional molecules can be incorporated at pre-defined positions
• mechanical properties can be tailored
• Low-cost materials due to use of short peptides APPLICATIONS
• In vitro platform for cell-based assays, e.g. in drug discovery
• Controlled stem cell differentiation
• Extracellular matrix models
• Regenerative medicine, e.g. tissue engineering
• Wound healing scaffolds INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY International and US patents have been filed. OPPORTUNITY The technology is currently at an early-stage where ‘proof-of-concept’ has been demonstrated for in vitro applications with a number of cell types. Collaborations with industry or academic groups interested in trialling the hydrogel platform are welcomed.

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