A group of researchers from the Imperial College London have recently synthesized a novel material that interacts with surrounding tissues to promote healing. Materials are often used to treat wounds and injuries; however, this new method uses a biomaterial that can interact with the tissue as the healing process occurs.
The researchers technique is referred to as traction force-activated payloads (TrAPs), and it allows the material to ‘communicate’ with the body’s innate recovery system to accelerate healing. The research team believes that if integrated into existing medical materials, TrAPs could completely change how we currently handle wounded patients.
Published in Advanced Materials, this project was carried out by Dr. Ben Almquist and his team at Imperial College London. Almquist stated that his team’s technology “could help launch a new generation of materials that actively work with tissues to drive healing.”
Once one becomes injured, cells maneuver through collagen scaffolds within the wound. In the process these scaffolds are pulled on and activate proteins that initiate the healing of the injured tissue. TrAPs aims to mimic this naturally occurring recovery process. It was created via folding of DNA segments into clusters known as aptamers, which strongly bind proteins. The researchers then gave these clusters an attachment group that is customizable, and attached this to a scaffold such as collagen.
In testing the TrAPs system, the researchers found that the cells pulled on it as they made their way through the collagen scaffolds. In the process TrAPs unraveled in a manner that revealed and activated the recovery proteins, facilitating the growth and multiplication of the healing cells.
Almquist and his team also found that manipulating the cellular attachment ‘handle’ changed the type of cell that TrAPs bound to and pulled upon. This allowed the researchers to customize TrAPs to release certain therapeutic proteins depending on the cells present at that time. Ultimately, this leads to the production of material that is capable of interacting with the right cell at the right moment during recovery.
This marks the first trial in which researchers have activated healing proteins in this manner using different cells in materials made by humans.
“Using cell movement to activate healing is found in creatures ranging from sea sponges to humans,” said Dr. Almquist. “Our approach mimics them and actively works with the different varieties of cells that arrive in our damaged tissue over time to promote healing.”
The TrAPs technique is applicable to different types of cells, therefore it has potential to be used in treating various injuries such as bone fractures, damaged nerves, and cardiac tissue. The material is fairly simple to create at large quantities and is easy to recreate in different labs. TrAPs ability to adapt deems it a candidate for studying diseases, stem cells, and development of tissue as well.
Dr Almquist concluded: “The TrAP technology provides a flexible method to create materials that actively communicate with the wound and provide key instructions when and where they are needed. This sort of intelligent, dynamic healing is useful during every phase of the healing process, has the potential to increase the body’s chance to recover, and has far-reaching uses on many different types of wounds. This technology has the potential to serve as a conductor of wound repair, orchestrating different cells over time to work together to heal damaged tissues.”