New protein-based hydrogel can heal wounds

No toxic side effects too, claim BWH bioengineers.

By Raif KareratHeal Wound

WASHINGTON, DC: A team of bioengineers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), led by Dr. Ali Khademhosseini and Dr. Nasim Annabi of the Biomedical Engineering Division, have developed a protein-based, elastic gel that mimics the properties of skin and blood vessels when exposed to light and could therefore be used to heal wounds.

“We are very interested in engineering strong, elastic materials from proteins because so many of the tissues within the human body are elastic. If we want to use biomaterials to regenerate those tissues, we need elasticity and flexibility,” co-senior author Nasim Annabi said in a statement released by Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The new material, known as a photocrosslinkable elastin-like polypeptide-based (ELP) hydrogel, offers several astounding benefits: “Our hydrogel has many applications – it could be used as a scaffold to grow cells or it can be incorporated with cells in a dish and then injected to stimulate tissue growth,” said Annabi. “In addition, the material can be used as a sealant, sticking to the tissue at the site of injury and creating a barrier over a wound,” she continued.

The team reported that ELP hydrogel can be digested overtime by naturally-occurring enzymes and does not appear to have toxic effects when tested with living cells in the lab.

The researchers, who published their study in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, also found that it was possible to combine the gel with silica nanoparticles — microscopic particles previously found to stop bleeding — to create an even more potent healing substance, according to the Press Trust of India.

“This could allow us to immediately stop bleeding with one treatment,” said Annabi. “We see great potential for use in the clinic. Our method is simple, the material is biocompatible, and we hope to see it solve clinical problems in the future.”

However, reported further investigation in pre-clinical models will be needed to test the material’s properties and safety before it can be approved for human use.

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