Shape Shifting Nanomaterial

Discovery Of Shape-Shifting Collagen Based Nanomaterials 

Analysts have invented a nanomaterial that can transform shapes into flat sheets and tubes in a regulated way. The study pertaining to this nanomaterial was conducted at Emory University and was reported in The Journal of The American Chemical Society. The study findings have wide applications in the biomedical sector ranging from controlled drug delivery to advanced tissue engineering.

Synthetic collagen was used to synthesize the nanomaterial, which originally is in the sheet conformation and is ten thousand times finer than the size of a human hair. Natural collagen is the richest human protein, enabling the new nanomaterial essentially biocompatible.

Electron micrographs of the collagen nanomaterial. Image Credits: Emory University

Vincent Conticello, senior writer & biomolecular chemistry professor, Emory stated that none has ever created shape-shifting collagen-based nanomaterial. He also added that they can modify these nanomaterials into sheets and tubes by changing the acid concentration or pH, within its setting.

A provisional patent application for the nanomaterial has been submitted by the Emory Office of Technology Transfer.

The lead authors of the report are Gavin Touponse and Andrea Merg. The former was doing undergraduate studies during the project and is currently in Standford medical school. Merg on the other hand was doing post-doc research in Conticello’s laboratory and is currently at the University of California Merced. It was a joint study including researchers from the Center for Cellular Imaging & Nanoanalytics (University of Basel), Argonne National Laboratory (Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland), and Emory.

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Collagen is the pivotal structural protein within the human body’s connective tissue like skin, ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage. It is also surplus in muscles, gut, blood vessels, and other body parts.

Collagen isolated from other mammals like pigs is occasionally utilized for medical purposes in humans such as wound healing.

Conticello’s laboratory is one among the few labs centered on creating synthetic collagen appropriate for biomedicine and other intricate technology applications. This kind of synthetic tailored biomaterials can be manipulated in various ways that normal collagen can’t.

Conticello claimed that it was made possible to manipulate the collagen sequence 30 years back. The sector burgeoned rapidly within the last 15 years because of technological progression in electron microscopy and crystallography, which enabled a better analytical viewpoint for the nanomaterials.

Conticello also mentioned that the invention of Emory’s new transfiguring nanomaterial was an accidental discovery. It was partly achieved by design and by luck.

Fluorescent micrograph of tubes and sheets of the nanomaterial. Image Credits: Emory University

Human collagen is a triple-helix protein with fibers braided resembling a three-stranded rope. These strands are not pliable, they are rigid like pencils and are closely packed together within a crystalline array.

The Conticello’s laboratory has been operating with collagen sheets made long back. Conticello explained that one sheet is a quite big 2-D crystal, however, due to the arrangement of peptides, it appears like a whole pack of pencils packed together. About half of the pencils have lead faced upwards and the rest have eraser-tip faced upwards.

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Conticello wanted to attempt to improvise the collagen sheets such that both sides would have distinct functions. Using the pencil resemblance, one side of the sheet would have lead tips and others with eraser tips. The utmost objective was to create collagen sheets that could be incorporated with a medical apparatus by changing a surface into a biocompatible one with the body’s functional proteins and another one compatible with the apparatus.

When the chemists tailored these distinct kinds of surfaces into a single collagen sheet, they were astonished to observe that this resulted in the curling of sheets into scrolls. Later they discovered that they can manipulate these nanomaterials into either flat sheets or scrolls by altering the pH of the solution in which it is placed. They additionally proved that they could regulate the metamorphosis nature of the material with specific pH levels at a molecular level via design.

Conticello reported that it is quite amusing that the external setting within which the shift happens is a physiological condition. This paves the possibilities for encapsulating a drug substance inside a collagen tube under specific lab settings. The collagen tubes could eventually be engineered to unroll and deliver the therapeutic molecules contained after it comes to an environment with similar pH to a human cell.

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Shape-Shifting Nanomaterial

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Author: Geema George

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