Protein-on-Polymer Scaffold Could Promote Organ Growth, Wound Care

Bob Michaels

August 2, 2010

2 Min Read
Protein-on-Polymer Scaffold Could Promote Organ Growth, Wound Care

Harvard scientists' protein-based scaffold grown on a polymer substrate could be used to grow organ tissue and treat wounds.

Researchers in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) have developed a stretchy fabric made by linking together the proteins found in muscle tissue. Eventually, the material developed in the laboratory of Kevin Kit Parker could provide a scaffold for growing new organs and for coating bandages to promote healing.

As reported in MIT's Technology Review, Parker's team makes the new fabric by depositing fibronectin--a strong, stretchy protein secreted by cells that acts as a supportive scaffold--on top of a water-repelling polymer surface. After the normally bundled proteins unravel, they are stamped onto a dissolvable water-attracting polymer sheet on top of a piece of glass. Adding water and warming the mixture to room temperature causes the proteins to link together to form the fabric. It also dissolves the polymer so that the fabric can be peeled away and collected.

Thus so, the team has made swatches of material 10 nm thick and approximately 2.5 cm wide. By using different proteins or changing the way they are aligned, the scientists can control the fabric's architecture and mechanical characteristics.

The research team can program direction cues into the architecture of the scaffold and thus direct the growth of cells in the desired direction by building the scaffold from the protein up. Using natural proteins rather than synthetic polymers or decellularized organs reduces the likelihood that the new tissue will be rejected once it is implanted.

In one experiment, the research team grew heart muscle cells on top of a piece of finished fabric. The fabric caused the muscle cells to link together to form a tissue that "beat" for a week when it was stimulated electrically.

Besides serving as a scaffold for growing such organ tissue as heart muscle, the scientists think that the new fabric could serve as a wound-care dressing on bandages, accelerating the healing process and minimizing scar formation.

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