Young scientist: A visit to Yale
Smart Gels for Chronic Wounds
Early 2014, I embarked on an IBME-funded trip to Yale University, USA where I was to work on an exciting collaborative project as part of the IBME-led Yale-UCL Medical Technologies Collaborative (MTC) for six weeks. The idea behind these collaborations was to develop innovative technologies to solve medical challenges. I was one of two PhD students to be funded on this amazing opportunity under the research theme of ‘Biomaterials and Drug Delivery’.
My field of interest is chronic wounds – wounds that do not follow the normal orderly healing paradigm and that remain exposed for prolonged periods of time meaning that they can become infected and painful. Not only do they reduce the quality of life for the patient, they represent a huge financial burden on the NHS and healthcare systems worldwide. My project was designed around the idea of an interdisciplinary approach to drug delivery to chronic wounds, combining the expertise of principal investigators Dr. Richard Day, Applied Biomedical Engineering Group, UCL and Prof. Lynne Regan, Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry, Yale.
The challenge of drug delivery to chronic wounds
The challenge of drug delivery to cavitied chronic wounds is being able to provide a slow-release severity-dependent delivery of the therapeutic drug at the right consistency. Drug encapsulation is a common technique used to address this problem and this project was based on developing such a technique with a unique spin. ‘Smart gels’ are special types of gels that are stimuli-responsive, and that can release an encapsulated load in response to environmental cues such as a change in temperature or pH. In this project, we wanted to make a smart gel that degraded in response to elevated enzyme levels in the wound fluid and in doing so would release an active drug embedded within the gel. The novel component would be a sequence that is a natural target of the enzymes. Using a plethora of protein chemistry techniques I began to develop the building blocks of the gel.
After generating the components using molecular biology, protein synthesis and purification, we managed to identify two sub-types of the gel by mass spectrometry and HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography). The results are promising and future work will take these results through to gel formation and characterisation. We are also working on several other novel approaches to the smart gel, including polypeptide concatenation and techniques involved genetically encoded protein-peptide pairing.
My experience at Yale
Not only did I learn myriad new techniques and skills, I was able to experience student life at another university, in another country. The collaboration tested my flexibility and I found myself adapting to life in the States very quickly. The research team were supportive and friendly, and with their guidance I managed to get meaningful results within my six week stay.
I would like to thank the IBME for their funding support that made this exciting collaboration possible along with my supervisor Richard Day and the collaborating research team over at Yale.
PhDc, Applied Biomedical Engineering Group, University College London (UCL)