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by Surgical Tribune

Cells being cultured to form a functionalised extracellular matrix—the click ECM. (Photograph: Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology)

Dec 2, 2016 | EUROPE

Scientists develop stable biological coating for implants

STUTTGART, Germany: The extracellular matrix (ECM) regulates all important cell functions and is a highly interesting biomaterial for scientists. Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (Fraunhofer IGB) have developed an ECM that contains artificial chemical groups and supports natural cell behaviour outside the body. It can be applied as a stable coating on implants or be used in cell culture dishes.

Biologists, chemists and physicians need to know how biological reactions occur inside the human body to be able to, for example, insert new implants, develop new active substances or replace diseased tissue. The ECM plays an important role in such research. In human tissue, it is the natural environment of cells and is responsible for important functions. Tissue-specific composition makes it the ideal material for use in medical technology. “However, it is very complicated to modify the matrix in such a way that it can be adapted to different uses, but still behave naturally,” said Dr Monika Bach from the Department of Interfacial Engineering and Materials Science at Fraunhofer IGB.

The chemists and biologists at the Stuttgart research institute have worked together to develop a functional ECM that supports natural cell behaviour even outside the body and that can be flexibly adapted to problems related to biology or materials science. Prof. Petra Kluger, Head of the Department of Cell and Tissue Engineering, described the current state of the research as follows: “We have shown in the laboratory that the biomaterial fulfills its functions in spite of the additional artificial chemical groups and supports the natural behaviour of cells that are in contact with it.”

The Fraunhofer IGB scientists are currently looking for collaborators to help them to develop specific products with the patented technology. One possibility would be to coat implants so they are more rapidly accepted by the body. According to Bach, “In principle, this technology would also be interesting to develop new materials that can be used to support healing in bones or wounds.” The material could also be used to coat cell culture dishes in the laboratory. It provides cells with an ideal environment, allowing them to exhibit their natural growth properties during culture. “Complex living material reacts very sensitively to even small changes in the environment,” Bach explained.

In order to equip the ECM with artificial chemical groups, the scientists exploit natural cell metabolism and allow the chemical groups to incorporate themselves. For this purpose, cells isolated from human tissue samples are incubated in cell culture dishes with sugar molecules that differ from normal sugars in that they have a reactive artificial chemical group at one position. The cells pick up this modified sugar and use it as a building block to assemble molecules within the cell and in the ECM. As Bach describes it, “This chemical group can then undergo a selective chemical reaction—a click reaction—with a suitable binding partner. Imagine it is like a fastener button: one half, the other half and then click!” The advantage of the clicking together is that the selective chemical reaction has a high yield, without side reactions and under physiological conditions, without interfering in natural cell processes.

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by Surgical Tribune