Rice University researchers studying how different drugs, proteins, and cells embedded in peptide hydrogel can boost healing and promote tissue formation, discovered that the hydrogel itself exhibits powerful therapeutic properties. Their self-assembling multidomain peptide (MDP) with the amino acid sequence K2(SL)6K2 can be injected into tissue to provide a place for new cells to grow, the body eventually washing it away over a few weeks.
In their studies, the Rice team noted that the hydrogel promotes the formation of new blood vessels and attracts nerve fibers, is inviting to host cells, and causes a short term inflammatory response, all surprising findings. The researchers believe that both the chemical composition of the peptide hydrogel and its physical structure play a role in its bioactive properties.
The findings took some time to realize because the empty hydrogel, void of any infused cells, chemicals, or other objects, served as a control under the assumption that it’s a biologically inert material. Careful attention to data let the team uncover the hidden magic of this material.
“As we eventually discovered, this exceptional peptide allows the body to carry out healing on its own, but with a significant boost,” said Jeffrey Hartgerink, the lead researcher of the latest study appearing in journal Biomaterials. “We believe the key step is the initial, and very rapid, cell infiltration. Once these cells are on location, they produce everything they need for an impressive regenerative response, including angiogenesis and neurogenesis.”