Student project

A new non-toxic chemically cross-linked ELP hydrogel for in situ protein delivery

Proteins play an essential role in all biological processes and have been attracting more and more attention as drug candidates due to their high specificity and activity. However, their use as therapeutics has been seriously held back given that their ability to be effectively and conveniently delivered is problematic. Indeed, simple oral administration is ineffective since proteins are degraded in the digestive tract. Until now, these therapeutic agents were delivered by infusions or frequent injections. But this causes serious problems, as the compound does not get delivered in a prolonged continuous manner. Additionally, injections are also problematic as patients are reluctant to use needles unless there illness is life threatening. That is why focus has grown over the last years on developing novel delivery systems for proteins. Amongst the various types of delivery systems that exist, hydrogel based ones are very promising, as they possess remarkable biomimetic properties. The hydrogels that are chemically cross-linked are stronger than their counterparts, the physical hydrogels. An appealing approach to protein delivery that is more and more sought is to form the hydrogel in situ from an injected aqueous polymer solution and to use the formed gel as a depot for the sustained release of the protein. Oxygen sensitive gellation is an interesting stimulus to form these gels, but has not been successfully developed, as the gelling kinetics are too slow. Therefore, research groups have turned to the use of toxic chemicals to speed up the reaction. Elastin-like poylpeptides (ELP) are artificial biopolymers that are composed of a pentapeptide repeat. This repeat consists of Val-Pro-Gly-Xaa-Gly, where Xaa denotes a guest residue. An interesting characteristic of ELPs is that they are thermally responsive. Meaning, that when in solution they go through a lower critical solution temperature (LCST) transition. Below their LCST they are soluble in water and above their LCST they are insoluble. ELPs are well suited for drug delivery applications for many reasons such as their biocompatibility. The ELP that is studied is ELP9 Gel. Its guest residues are Val, Ala and Cys in a ratio of 1:14:1 respectively. As this ELP has cysteines it has the capacity to form a gel via cross-linking of the thiols groups by oxidation. The rheological tests that were carried out showed that this ELP9 Gel has all the characteristics of a gel. Furthermore, its gelling kinetics were greatly increased by heating it, but still remain too long for in situ applications. This suggests that the LCST behaviour of ELPs seems to play some role in favouring the cross-linking. But further controls remain to be done to confirm this hypothesized tandem process. A delivery strategy that involved this ELP9 Gel and Blue Fluorescent Proteins (BFP) with added cysteines was not successful as the molecular biology to obtain the modified proteins failed. However, the elaboration of a fusion peptide between Glucagon-Like-Peptide-1 (GLP-1) and ELP9 Gel was accomplished. The preliminary activity assay showed a reduced activity in comparison to the GLP-1 peptide alone. Unfortunately this ELP9 Gel has a setback due to its slow gelling time. Therefore, before continuing the research on the delivery strategies, it would be wiser to create a better ELP. If a new ELP with a higher cysteine concentration and lower transition temperature can be created, its gelling kinetics may be favourable for in situ protein delivery applications and thus, a chemically cross-linked hydrogel that does not require any toxic cross-linker would be available. This would be a big step in creating a very robust hydrogel for protein delivery applications but also for tissue regeneration


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