New bioinspired material talks to the body’s natural repair systems to drive healing

New material could ‘drive wound healing’ using the body's inbuilt healing system.

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Scientists at the Imperial College London have recently come up with a bioinspired material that interacts with surrounding tissues to promote healing. Known as traction force-activated payloads (TrAPs), it could change the way traditional materials work with the body.

Dr Almquist, from Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said: “Our technology could help launch a new generation of materials that actively work with tissues to drive healing.”

TrAPs are designed as a way to reproduce this natural healing process. They collapsed the DNA sections into three-dimensional shapes known as aptamers that stick firmly to proteins. At that point, they appended a customizable ‘handle’ that cells can grab off toward one side before joining the contrary end to a system, for example, collagen.

During experiments, scientists found that cells pulled on the TrAPs as they crawled through the collagen scaffolds. The pulling made the TrAPs unravel like shoelaces to reveal and activate the healing proteins. These proteins instruct the healing cells to grow and multiply.

In addition, scientists found that changing the cellular ‘handle’ can change which type of cell can grab hold and pull, letting them tailor TrAPs to release specific therapeutic proteins based on which cells are present at a given time.

In doing so, the TrAPs produce materials that can smartly interact with the correct type of cell at the correct time during wound repair.

Dr Ben Almquist, Department of Bioengineering, said, “This is the first time scientists have activated healing proteins using differing cell types in man-made materials. Creatures, from sea sponges to humans, use cell movement to activate healing. Our approach mimics this by using the different cell varieties in wounds to drive healing.”

Scientists noted, “TrAPs are relatively straightforward to create and are fully man-made, meaning they are easily recreated in different labs and can be scaled up to industrial quantities.”

Moreover, the approach is adaptable to different cell types, so it could be used in a variety of injuries such as fractured bones, scar tissue after heart attacks, and damaged nerves.

Journal Reference

  1. Stejskalová, A., Oliva, N., England, F. J., & Almquist, B. D. (2019). Biologically Inspired, Cell-Selective Release of Aptamer-Trapped Growth Factors by Traction Forces. Advanced Materials, 31(7), 1806380. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201806380