Bioengineers develop highly elastic biomaterial for better wound healing

July 2, 2015
Elastic gel to heal wounds
Bioengineers have developed a new protein-based gel that, when exposed to light, mimics many of the properties of elastic tissue, such as skin and blood vessels. Credit: Courtesy of Nasim Annabi, Brigham and Women's Hospital.

A team of bioengineers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), led by Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, and Nasim Annabi, PhD, of the Biomedical Engineering Division, has developed a new protein-based gel that, when exposed to light, mimics many of the properties of elastic tissue, such as skin and blood vessels. In a paper published in Advanced Functional Materials, the research team reports on the new material's key properties, many of which can be finely tuned, and on the results of using the material in preclinical models of wound healing.

"We are very interested in engineering strong, 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," said Annabi, a co-senior author of the study. "Our hydrogel is very flexible, made from a biocompatible polypeptide and can be activated using light."

"Hydrogels - jelly-like that can mimic the properties of human tissue - are widely used in biomedicine, but currently available materials have limitations. Some synthetic gels degrade into toxic chemicals over time, and some natural gels are not strong enough to withstand the flow of arterial blood through them," said Khademhosseini.

The new material, known as a photocrosslinkable elastin-like polypeptide-based (ELP) hydrogel, offers several benefits. This elastic hydrogel is formed by using a light-activated polypeptide. When exposed to light, strong bonds form between the molecules of the gel, providing mechanical stability without the need for any chemical modifiers to be added to the material.

The team reports 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 team also found that they could control how much the material swelled as well its strength, finding that the ELP hydrogel could withstand more stretching than experienced by arterial tissue in the body.

"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."

The researchers found that it was possible to combine the gel with silica nanoparticles - microscopic particles previously found to stop bleeding - to develop an even more powerful barrier to promote .

"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."

Further investigation in pre-clinical models will be needed to test the material's properties and safety before approval for use in humans.

Explore further: Bioengineers create rubber-like material bearing micropatterns for stronger, more elastic hearts

Related Stories

Injectable gel fills wounds and promotes tissue regeneration

June 8, 2015

Researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed an injectable hydrogel that helps skin wounds heal more quickly. The material creates an instant scaffold that allows new tissue ...

Building heart tissue that beats

March 18, 2014

When a heart gets damaged, such as during a major heart attack, there's no easy fix. But scientists working on a way to repair the vital organ have now engineered tissue that closely mimics natural heart muscle that beats, ...

Recommended for you

New X-ray spectroscopy explores hydrogen-generating catalyst

November 22, 2017

Using a newly developed technique, researchers from Japan, Germany and the U.S. have identified a key step in production of hydrogen gas by a bacterial enzyme. Understanding these reactions could be important in developing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.