Carnegie Mellon Chemists Create Nanofibers Using Unprecedented New Method

via Carnegie Mellon University
via Carnegie Mellon University
The work offers a promising new way to fabricate materials for drug delivery and tissue engineering applications.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have developed a novel method for creating self-assembled protein/polymer nanostructures that are reminiscent of fibers found in living cells.

The work offers a promising new way to fabricate materials for drug delivery and tissue engineering applications. The findings were published in the July 28 issue of Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

“We have demonstrated that, by adding flexible linkers to protein molecules, we can form completely new types of aggregates. These aggregates can act as a structural material to which you can attach different payloads, such as drugs. In nature, this protein isn’t close to being a structural material,” said Tomasz Kowalewski, professor of chemistry in Carnegie Mellon’s Mellon College of Science.

The building blocks of the fibers are a few modified green fluorescent protein (GFP) molecules linked together using a process called click chemistry. An ordinary GFP molecule does not normally bind with other GFP molecules to form fibers. But when Carnegie Mellon graduate student Saadyah Averick, working under the guidance of Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, the J.C. Warner Professor of Natural Sciences and University Professor of Chemistry in CMU’s Mellon College of Science, modified the GFP molecules and attached PEO-dialkyne linkers to them, they noticed something strange — the GFP molecules appeared to self-assemble into long fibers. Importantly, the fibers disassembled after being exposed to sound waves, and then reassembled within a few days. Systems that exhibit this type of reversible fibrous self-assembly have been long sought by scientists for use in applications such as tissue engineering, drug delivery, nanoreactors and imaging.

“This was purely curiosity-driven and serendipity-driven work,” Kowalewski said. “But where controlled polymerization and organic chemistry meet biology, interesting things can happen.”

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