Researchers from the Imperial College London have focused on long-term tissue damage repair with a new wound-healing material.
The new method— dubbed traction-force activated payloads (TrAPs)— changes how materials work with the body to drive the body’s natural systems and facilitate how tissues heal.
“Our technology could help launch a new generation of materials that actively work with tissues to drive healing,” Ben Almquist, from Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said in a statement. “Using cell movement to activate healing is found in creatures ranging from sea sponges to humans. Our approach mimics them and actively works with the different varieties of cells that arrive in our damaged tissue over time to promote healing.”
After a site becomes injured, cells “crawl” through collagen scaffolds in wounds, pulling on the scaffold to activate hidden healing proteins that will begin the process of repairing the injured tissue.
The newly designed TrAPs recreate the natural healing method.
The researchers folded DNA segments into aptamers—three-dimensional molecules that cling tightly to proteins. Next, the team attached a customizable handle that cells can grab onto on one end before attaching the opposite end to a scaffold like collagen.
The researchers observed during lab testing that the cells pulled on the TrAPs as they crawled through the collagen scaffolds, making the TrAPs unravel to reveal and activate the healing proteins that instruct the healing cells to grow and multiply.
Another outcome of the study is that the team learned that they could change the cellular handle to change the type of cell that grabs hold and pulls. This enables researchers to tailor TrAPs to release specific therapeutic proteins based on which cells are present at a given time to produce materials that smartly interact with the correct type of cell at the correct time to facilitate wound repair.
The team believes they can adapt this approach to different cell types to treat different injuries, including fractured bones, scar tissue after heart attacks and damaged nerves. New techniques are needed for patients whose wounds do not heal using the interventions currently used, such as diabetic foot ulcers, the leading cause of non-traumatic lower leg amputations.
The TrAPs are fairly easy to create in the lab and ultimately can be scaled up to industrial quantities. They also will allow scientists to create new methods for laboratory studies of various diseases, stem cells and tissue development.
“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,” Almquist said. “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,” he added.
The study was published in Advanced Materials.