Scientists at the University of Delaware have designed a novel, peptide-based hydrogel for a plethora of likely medical applications.
Led by scientists Joel Schneider and Darrin Pochan, doctoral student Lisa Haines-Butterick used 'MAX8', the eighth iteration of a self-assembling peptide that the scientists designed six years ago and named after Pochan's son Max, to figure out how to encapsulate living cells in the hydrogel and then injected the gel into secondary sites of the study models without harming the cells.
"Although we have currently only demonstrated this capacity of our gels using simple models, we envision that when injected into the body, the cells encapsulated in the gel can go about their business in restructuring the tissue," explained Schneider, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the university.
The peptide-based hydrogels are not toxic to the living cells they are enlisted to deliver. Some of them are inherently anti-microbial, meaning that they are capable of killing certain gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria.
According to researchers, these hydrogels can be freeze-dried into a powder, and reconstituted into a solution for use. Furthermore, they can be injected from a syringe, offering a minimally invasive approach to medical treatment, as well as a "leak-proof" way of potentially delivering cells and drugs to a wound or diseased organ.
The researchers believe that their invention may prove helpful in regenerating healthy tissue in a cancer-ridden liver, healing a biopsy site, and providing wounded soldiers in battle with pain killing and infection-fighting medical treatment.
"You know, the liver is an amazing organ. It has the ability to regenerate itself quite easily. If almost 70 per cent of it is lost to disease and removed, that remaining 30 per cent can grow back, affording a functional liver. We want to use the hydrogels to deliver hepatocytes to the liver," Schneider said.
"These could be used to beef up the liver's function prior to surgery if, for example, someone had hepatitis, or drank a lot, factors that would normally limit the amount of cancerous liver that can be removed," added the researcher.
The hydrogel study has been reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.