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Engineers improve plastic's potential for use in implants by linking it to biological material

Engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have found a way to modify a plastic to anchor molecules that promote nerve regeneration, blood vessel growth or other biological processes.

In the study led by Dr. Christine Schmidt, the researchers identified a piece of protein from among a billion candidates that could perform the unusual feat of attaching to polypyrrole, a synthetic polymer (plastic) that conducts electricity and has shown promise in biomedical applications. When the protein piece, or peptide, was linked to a smaller protein piece that human cells like to attach to, polypyrrole gained the ability to attach to cells grown in flasks in the laboratory.

"It will be very useful from a biomedical standpoint to be able to link factors to polypyrrole in the future that stimulate nerve growth or serve other functions," said Schmidt, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the university.

Schmidt is the principal author for the study conducted with colleague Dr. Angela Belcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was published online May 15 by the journal Nature Materials.

Polypyrrole is of interest for tissue engineering and other purposes because it is a non-toxic plastic that conducts electricity. As a result, it could be used to extend previous experiments in Schmidt's laboratory. The experiments involve wrapping a tiny strip of plastic around damaged, cable-like extensions of nerve cells called neurites to help them regenerate.

"We can apply an electric field to this synthetic material and enhance neurite repair," said Schmidt. The newly gained ability to attach proteins to polypyrrole, she said, will mean that growth-enhancing factors could also be linked to this plastic wrapping, further stimulating neurite regeneration.

Working with Schmidt and Belcher, the paper's lead authors, graduate students Archit Sanghvi and Kiley Miller identified the peptide that attaches to polypyrrole from a
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Source:University of Texas at Austin


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