New method to grow synthetic collagen unveiled

Sep 08, 2011
Rice University researchers Lesley O'Leary (left) and Jeffrey Hartgerink have unveiled a new method for making synthetic collagen, which could prove useful for regenerating new tissues and organs from stem cells. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

In a significant advance for cosmetic and reconstructive medicine, scientists at Rice University have unveiled a new method for making synthetic collagen. The new material, which forms from a liquid in as little as an hour, has many of the properties of natural collagen and may prove useful as a scaffold for regenerating new tissues and organs from stem cells.

"Our work is significant in two ways," said Rice's Jeffrey Hartgerink, the lead author of a new paper about the research in Nature Chemistry. "Our final product more closely resembles native collagen than anything that's previously been made, and we make that material using a self-assembly process that is remarkably similar to processes found in nature."

Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, is a key component of many tissues, including skin, , ligaments, and blood vessels. Biomedical researchers in the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine, or , often use a combination of and collagen-like materials in their attempts to create laboratory-grown tissues that can be transplanted into patients without risk of immunological rejection.

Animal-derived collagen, which has some inherent immunological risks, is the form of collagen most commonly used in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery today. Animal-derived collagen is also used in many cosmetics.

Despite the abundance of collagen in the body, deciphering or recreating it has not been easy for scientists. One reason for this is the complexity collagen exhibits at different scales. For example, just as a rope is made of many interwoven threads, collagen fibers are made of millions of proteins called peptides. Like a rope net that can trap and hold items, can form three-dimensional structures called hydrogels that trap and hold water.

"Our supramolecules, fibers and hydrogels form in a similar way to native collagen, but we start with shorter peptides," said Hartgerink, associate professor of chemistry and of bioengineering.

With an eye toward mimicking collagen's self-assembly process as closely as possible, Hartgerink's team spent several years perfecting its design for the .

Hartgerink said it's too early to say whether the synthetic collagen can be substituted medically for human or animal-derived collagen, but it did clear the first hurdle on that path; the enzyme that the body uses to break down native collagen also breaks down the new material at a similar speed.

A faculty investigator at Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative, Hartgerink said scientists must next determine whether cells can live and grow in the new material and whether it performs the same way in the body that native collagen does. He estimated that clinical trials, if they prove warranted, are at least five years away.

Explore further: New, more versatile version of Geckskin: Gecko-like adhesives now useful for real world surfaces

More information: www.nature.com/nchem/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nchem.1123.html

Related Stories

Synthetic collagen from maize has human properties

Jun 24, 2011

Synthetic collagen has a wide range of applications in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery and in the food industry. For proper function in animals a certain number of prolines within the protein need to be hydroxylated. ...

Scientists create super-strong collagen

Jan 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has created the strongest form of collagen known to science, a stable alternative to human collagen that could one day be used to treat arthritis and ...

Research reveals structure and behavior of collagen

Feb 26, 2008

The structure and behavior of one of the most common proteins in our bodies has been resolved at a level of detail never before seen, thanks to new research performed at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at the U.S. Department ...

Key to tissue growth may be in anti-wrinkle cream

Nov 01, 2010

The first study to investigate the chemical structure of an advanced class of anti-wrinkle cream has shown that it could be used to promote wound healing and regenerative medicine.

Gene Gives a Boost to Tumor Suppression

Aug 18, 2006

Angiogenesis, or the growth of new blood vessels, is an important naturally occurring process in the body. As with normal tissues, tumors rely on angiogenesis to supply them with the oxygen and nutrients they need for growth.

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

Apr 16, 2014

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...