Biomolecule studied for medical uses

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University Chemistry Department researchers are creating unique polymers out of naturally occurring building blocks that don't provoke immune reactions and in some cases also biodegrade in the body. The tree-like, globular-shaped substances are being evaluated for a variety of medical uses.

Called biodendrimers, these structures are prepared by systematically reacting acids with alcohols to form what chemists call "esters." The results are branching molecular chains with finger-like ends that can form sticky and tenacious links with other substances.

These characteristics make them "ideal candidates for medical and tissue engineering applications," said Mark Grinstaff, the assistant chemistry professor who heads the Duke team. One potential application, which Duke Medical Center eye researchers are beginning to test, is a glue that could "close a wound and then be dissolved as new tissue grows in to repair the wound site," he added in an interview.

"It could really potentially change the way we do corneal surgery," added Dr. Terry Kim, associate director of the Corneal and Refractive Surgery Service at the Duke Eye Center and a medical center assistant professor of ophthalmology.

Another possibility, which biomedical researchers at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering have also started investigating, would be using such biodendrimers as scaffolding to help induce cells to repair damaged human joints.

"Biodendrimers appear to interact with cells in completely novel manners," said Lori Setton, assistant professor and Harold L. Yoh Faculty Scholar in the Pratt School's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Because of its promise, Grinstaff's research just received $250,000 in funding from the Johnson & Johnson Focused Giving program, established to stimulate exploration in medical science. Other funding sources include the Pew, Sloan and Dreyfus foundations.

In a spring 2001 issue of the Journal of the Americ

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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