Tough New Gel Mimics Part Of A Cell | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 91 Issue 4 | p. 32 | Concentrates
Issue Date: January 28, 2013

Tough New Gel Mimics Part Of A Cell

Down-the-line applications for new polymer include wound dressings
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Materials SCENE, Biological SCENE
Keywords: polymer, cytoskeleton, biopolymer, nanomaterials, atomic force microscopy, biomimetic polymer
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A stained image of a cell highlights its intermediate filaments, and an AFM image of the gel (inset) shows its tiny bundles.
Credit: MicroscopyU(Green)/Nature(Inset)
These images show modified polymers that gel as they warm.
 
A stained image of a cell highlights its intermediate filaments, and an AFM image of the gel (inset) shows its tiny bundles.
Credit: MicroscopyU(Green)/Nature(Inset)

Cells resist damage from everyday strain thanks in part to the materials in their cytoskeletons. These biopolymers stiffen when they are pulled. That quality is desirable for tissue engineering applications but has proved challenging to reproduce in a synthetic material. Now, chemists have come up with a polymer that responds to force much like the cytoskeleton’s biological scaffolding (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature11839). Alan E. Rowan and Paul H. J. Kouwer of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, led a team that modified polyisocyanopeptide polymers with triethylene glycol tails to control the materials’ solubility in water. The unusual polymers gelate when warmed—most gels form through cooling. In gel form, Rowan says, the polymer chains bundle together like fibers in a nanoscale rope, increasing the materials’ stiffness. Results from atomic force microscopy and rheology studies show that the polymer doesn’t snap under strain but instead stiffens like intermediate filaments, a component of the cytoskeleton. The team has patented the polyisocyanopeptides and has started a company called NovioTech to commercialize potential applications, including wound dressings.

 
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