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Modified collagen could yield important medical applications

Altered protein could help deliver drugs and shape the growth of engineered tissueCollagen often pops up in beauty products and supermodel lips. But by mating collagen with a molecular hitchhiker, materials scientists at Johns Hopkins hope to create some important medical advances. The researchers have found a simple new way to modify collagen, paving the way for better infection-fighting bandages and a treatment to block the formation of unwanted scar tissue. In addition, tissue engineers may be able to use modified collagen in the lab to help control the formation of tiny new blood vessels that can be used to promote the integration of tissue implants in patients.

Michael (Seungju) Yu of the university's Whiting School of Engineering was scheduled to describe the new collagen modification process and its potential medical uses in an Aug. 30 presentation in Washington, D.C., at the 230th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society. His team also published a paper on the work earlier this year in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The research focuses on the human body's most common protein. Collagen promotes blood clotting and provides the sponge-like scaffold upon which cells build nerves, bones and skin. Because it is non-toxic, dissolves naturally over time and rarely triggers rejection, collagen is commonly used in cosmetics, drug delivery systems and biocompatible coatings.

Yu's goal is to change some of collagen's biochemical or mechanical properties to give it new medical applications. Traditionally, scientists have altered collagen by using intense heat or chemical reactions, techniques that may damage the protein or limit its safe use in humans. Yu's method, however, requires only physical mixing of collagen with even smaller molecules called collagen mimetic peptides.

"That's the beauty of this," said Yu, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "If you want to attach the
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Source:Johns Hopkins University


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