New hydrogel mimics human tissue and fights bacteria

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) have developed a new synthetic hydrogel that can mimic human tissue and prevent bacterial infections. The hydrogel, which is based on short peptides containing tryptophan, has potential applications in biomedical research and medicine.

What is a hydrogel?

A hydrogel is a substance that consists of water and a network of polymer chains. Hydrogels can be found in nature, such as in cartilage and seaweed, or made in the lab, such as in contact lenses and wound dressings. Hydrogels are useful for biomedical research because they can provide a soft and moist environment for cells to grow and function.

New hydrogel mimics human tissue and fights bacteria
New hydrogel mimics human tissue and fights bacteria

However, most synthetic hydrogels have limitations, such as poor mechanical strength, low biocompatibility, or susceptibility to bacterial contamination. Therefore, scientists are looking for new ways to create hydrogels that can better mimic the properties of natural tissues.

How does the new hydrogel work?

The new hydrogel, which was reported in the journal Nature Communications, is made from short peptides that contain multiple tryptophans. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is essential for human health and has a unique ability to form zipper-like structures with other tryptophans. These structures, called tryptophan zippers or Trpzip, can self-assemble into a network of nanofibers that form a gel.

The Trpzip hydrogel has several advantages over conventional synthetic hydrogels. First, it is bioactive, which means that it can support the growth and function of human cells. Second, it is antimicrobial, which means that it can kill or inhibit bacteria. Third, it is self-healing, which means that it can recover its shape and structure after being damaged or injected.

What are the potential applications of the new hydrogel?

The new hydrogel could have various applications in biomedical research and medicine. For example, it could be used as a scaffold for tissue engineering, where cells are grown on a 3D structure to create artificial organs or tissues. It could also be used as a wound dressing or a drug delivery system, where it can protect the wound from infection and release drugs at a controlled rate. Moreover, it could be used as a material for 3D bioprinting or injection, where it can be shaped into complex structures or delivered to specific locations in the body.

The researchers are eager to explore the commercial potential of the new hydrogel and collaborate with industry and clinical partners to test its performance in different settings. They hope that the new hydrogel could provide a more ethical and effective alternative to animal-derived materials that are currently used in biomedical research.

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