Scaffolding for skin

A scaffolding technology that could help scientists grow tissue such as skin in labs is being developed by researchers at BristolUniversity.

The team are using proteins from alpha helices to create 3D ‘spaghetti’ scaffolding to support the growth of nerves, blood vessels and cartilage.

By building the hydrogelating self assembling fibres (hSAFs), or hydrogels, from scratch, the researchers hope to tailor the scaffolds to suit individual patient needs.

Project leader, Prof Dek Woolfson, said: ‘To make hydrogels you need something long and thin that will interact with copies of itself and form meshes, but is also water soluble.

‘However, rather than using natural proteins, which are complex, we’ve tried to make something as simple as possible that we fully understand, using peptides and self-assembling proteins.’

Existing hydrogel scaffold structures are either made synthetically or from natural products such as seaweed for use in everyday products such as shampoos and drug capsules.

Woolfson explained that the disadvantage of using peptides or proteins to create these structures is that they are expensive compared with synthetic polymers.

However, he added that they had potential for being used in high-end biomedical applications, which at the more advanced level would lead to applications such as speeding-up wound healing and grafting.

Prof Doug Kell, BBSRC chief executive, said: ‘This research highlights the importance of understanding how things work at a micro level and then looking at different ways to apply this knowledge to create effective solutions for tackling everyday problems; in this instance, translating basic bioscience into technology that could have very real clinical benefits for patients.’