Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a protein-based gel that can mimic the properties of elastic tissue when exposed to light.
The photocrosslinkable elastin-like polypeptide-based (ELP) hydrogel is formed through use of a light-activated polypeptide. Exposure to light causes the gel’s molecules to form strong bonds, enabling the gel to reach mechanical stability without the addition of chemical modifiers.
A team of bioengineers led by Nasim Annabi, PhD, and Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, found many of the gel’s properties can be finely tuned to improve wound healing, according to results published in Advanced Functional Materials.
“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,” Annabi, co-senior author of the study, said in a press release. “Our hydrogel is very flexible, made from a biocompatible polypeptide and can be activated using light.”
“Hydrogels — jelly-like materials that can mimic the properties of human tissue — are widely used in biomedicine, but currently available materials have limitations,” Khademhosseini added. “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.”
The ELP hydrogel is able to withstand stretching and appears to have no toxic effects, the team reports. Annabi said the gel can be used as a scaffold to grow cells, incorporated with existing cells and injected to stimulate tissue growth, and used to promote wound healing as a sealant or combined with silica nanoparticles to stop bleeding.
“This could allow us to immediately stop bleeding with one treatment,” Annabi said. “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.”
The gel will undergo further testing in pre-clinical models before approval for use in humans, according to the release.
Annabi N, et al. Adv Funct Mater. 2015;doi:10.1002/adfm.201501489.
Disclosure: The researchers report the study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (NIH/NIGMS 5T32GM008334, EB012597, AR057837, DE021468, HL099073, AI105024, and AR063745) and the National Science Foundation.