Developing a technological platform based on the fundamental understanding of peptide self-assembly for the design of novel biomaterials

Developing a technological platform based on the fundamental understanding of peptide self-assembly for the design of novel biomaterials

Funded Value: £1,815,950
Funded Period: Aug 13 – Jul 18
Funder: EPSRC
Principal Investigator: Alberto Saiani
Research Topic: materials synthesis & growth (50%)

The use of non-covalent self-assembly to construct materials has become a prominent strategy in material science offering practical routes for the construction of increasingly functional biomaterials. A variety of molecular building blocks can be used for this purpose; one such block is de-novo designed peptides. Peptides offer a number of advantages to materials scientists. Peptide synthesis has become a routine procedure making them easily accessible. The library of 20 natural amino acids offers the ability to play with the intrinsic properties of the peptide such as structure, hydrophobicity, charge and functionality allowing the design of materials with a wide range of properties.

The main challenge facing scientists in this field is being able to rationally design these peptides to gain control over the physical properties of the resulting self-assembled materials. This requires not only an in depth knowledge of the self-assembling processes at all length scales, but also a detailed understanding of the specific requirements of each application targeted. A key point that makes the development of an actual technological platform crucial is the variability of the requirements placed on the materials depending on the application targeted. For example, injectable materials need to be developed for cell delivery, while for drug delivery oral cavity sprayable systems could be required. For cell culture and tissue engineering the issue of adaptability of material properties is even more critical as depending on cell type, origin and intended behaviour, cells have very different requirements in term of their environment, (i.e.: material properties and functionality) in which they are placed. Finally, one other key element is the cost of these materials. When used as structural materials such as in hydrogels the quantity of peptide required is significant. In this context the development of a technological platform based on the same family of “simple” and “cheap” to produce peptides that can be used across a number of applications is a significant advantage.

Due to the Western economies financial situation the control of healthcare costs has become a significant issue. The development of a flexible technological platform based on “cheap” to produce peptide will result in significant economical benefit. The multiplicity of end-users will ensure a scale effect resulting in the reduction of costs through development of large scale production methodologies. In addition the validation and certification costs will also be significantly decreased as this will have to be performed only once. This will create new opportunities for end-users generating additional economical activity. The Biomaterial field is also projected to be worth over $90bn by 2020 with a projected annual growth of 6-10% making it a key economical sector for the UK. This fellowship will therefore contribute also to the UK economical activity in the field supporting the country’s effort to become a leader in the development of novel Biomaterials.

One of the focuses of this work is to develop fully synthetic scaffolds for cell culture and tissue engineering eliminating the need for animal derived matrix products. We also intend to develop a platform for toxicology testing. Both these activities will actively contribute to the reduction in animal experiments that need to be performed in drug and medical device development.

“One of the focuses of this work is to develop fully synthetic scaffolds for cell culture and tissue engineering, eliminating the need for animal derived matrix products. We also intend to develop a platform for toxicology testing.”

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