Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers use the self-build protein building technique to create a flexible and usable method for modifying solid surfaces.
FREMONT, CA: Fouling is natural as it refers to the tendency of proteins in water to stick to nearby surfaces. It creates unnecessary protein deposits to develop during the manufacturing of certain foods or biomedical implants, resulting in them failing. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers have harnessed this technique, which is traditionally regarded as a persistent obstacle, to create a flexible and usable method for modifying solid surfaces.
"The goal of this work is to develop a method that is tolerant of pretty much any material and geometry by which we can modify surfaces that are normally hard to modify," said R. Helen Zha, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer. She is conducting this study, with the support of more than $592,000, a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.
Surface modification is frequently needed to protect or improve the performance of a material or device. A surface coating, for example, may be required for the body to accept an implant and suppress bacterial growth in biomedical applications.
"Professor Zhas innovative approach to developing more effective and biocompatible coatings could have wide-ranging significance in the area of human health," said Deepak Vashishth, the director of CBIS. "This NSF CAREER Award speaks to the transformative and broader impact of Professor Zhas work."
Surface modification in the traditional process also needs complicated chemistry, costly machinery, and dangerous chemicals. Zha and her colleagues, on the other hand, will develop a nanoscale film on the surface of an object using silk fibroin, a protein that spontaneously assembles itself. This method only needs a beaker, water, salt, and protein, according to Zha, making it clean, environmentally friendly, and accessible outside the lab.
"We are actually growing the coating from the surface of the material itself," Zha said. "That allows us to achieve very thin, very conformal, and very adhesive coatings without having to use harmful reagents that aren't biocompatible.We used our coating procedure to grow our silk coating on the surfaces of these fibers," Zha explained. "We found that, by just giving the scaffold this coating, nerve cells attached a lot better, and they extended neurites a lot further on the scaffold, which can ultimately lead to improved clinical outcomes in nerve repair."