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Self-assembling proteins could help repair human tissue

Johns Hopkins University researchers have created a new class of artificial proteins that can assemble themselves into a gel and encourage the growth of selected cell types. This biomaterial, which can be tailored to send different biological signals to cells, is expected to help scientists who are developing new ways to repair injured or diseased body parts.

"We're trying to give an important new tool to tissue engineers to help them do their work more quickly and efficiently," said James L. Harden, whose lab team developed the new biomaterial. "We're the first to produce a self-assembling protein gel that can present several different biological signals to stimulate the growth of cells."

Harden, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, reported on his work March 28 in Anaheim, Calif., at the 227th national meeting of the American Chemical Society. His department is within the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins.

Tissue engineers use hydrogels, which are macromolecular networks immersed in an aqueous environment, to provide a framework or scaffold upon which to grow cells. These scientists hope to advance their techniques to the point where they can treat medical ailments by growing replacement cartilage, bones, organs and other tissue in the lab or within a human body.

The Harden lab's new hydrogel is made by mixing specially designed modular proteins in a buffered water solution. Each protein consists of a flexible central coil, containing a bioactive sequence and flanked by helical associating modules on each end. These end-modules come in three distinct types, which are designed to attract each other and form three-member bundles. This bundling leads to the formation of a regular network structure of proteins with three-member junctions linked together by the flexible coil modules. In this way, the new biomaterial assembles itself spontaneously when the protein elements are add
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
28-Mar-2004


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