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Protein-engineered gels mimic body's own functions

US Army Research Office backs NYU Engineering Team's investigation of hydrogels that could heal wounds or stick like Spiderman

NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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IMAGE: In the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, Associate Professor Jin Kim Montclare is engineering hydrogels that mimic nature. Examples of patterned biological surfaces include the famously sticky gecko. Top: cilia... view more

Credit: NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

BROOKLYN, N.Y.--The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Army Research Office (ARO) recently awarded a New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering researcher a grant to advance protein-engineered, environmentally responsive hydrogels that could replicate biochemical processes currently found only in nature. These protein hydrogels could become fundamental building blocks of important new biomimetic materials.

Associate Professor Jin Kim Montclare of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering received $368,000 over three years to fabricate patterned protein hydrogels for applications in sensing, drug delivery, and wound healing. As an example, these biomimetic materials could mimic the adhesion properties of the human body well enough to heal wounds. Montclare also envisions biomimetic materials that will be able to sense and control the flow of fluids, or even control the delivery of drugs within the bloodstream.

After testing the protein hydrogels, which are made from the Escherichia coli bacterium, they will be patterned onto various solid substrates to mimic biological functions. An example of this would be the patterning on a gecko's finger that allows it to adhere to surfaces. A similarly designed protein hydrogel could yield a similar stickiness. Using different patterning, protein hydrogels can adopt various other capabilities seen in nature.

Montclare's research differs from previous scientists' work in that it uses biologically engineered proteins instead of synthetic polymers or materials. The advantage, she explains, is that the new materials can be controlled by external stimuli such as temperature or salt.

With soldier protection and performance a priority, the U.S. Department of Defense has invested heavily in synthetic biology--the ability to make things using biology. Since 2005, Montclare and her research group have been at the forefront of protein engineering and molecular design.

The NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering dates to 1854, when the NYU School of Civil Engineering and Architecture as well as the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly) were founded. Their successor institutions merged in January 2014 to create a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to programs at its main campus in downtown Brooklyn, it is closely connected to engineering programs in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, and it operates business incubators in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. For more information, visit http://engineering.nyu.edu.

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