Scientists from the University of Twente's MESA+ research institute have developed a method for naturally incorporating living cells in materials, while fully preserving all properties. They succeeded in changing bacteria in such a way that they can be incorporated in man-made materials with dynamic weak bonds (non-covalent bonds). This new method opens the way for 'living implants', such as stents on which cells from the lining of blood vessels can attach themselves. The research was published in the leading scientific journal ACS Nano.
Supramolecular chemistry is the science that is concerned with molecular self-assembly: chemical building blocks which, when you combine them, naturally form larger ordered structures. In this case they are held together by so-called non-covalent bonds: weak bonds that play a key role in all natural processes. Within this branch of science, the art is to develop the various building blocks in such a way that they naturally form the desired structures. Researchers from the University of Twente MESA+ research institute have now found a method that allows them to ensure that living cells - in this case bacteria from the human body - can be incorporated in materials while maintaining their mobility. This opens the way to a wide range of new applications, for example as part of medical implants. Examples include stents equipped with bacteria on which endothelial cells (cells that form the lining of blood vessels) can grow, or bacteria that can release medicines in specific parts of the body.
According to research leader prof. dr. ir. Pascal Jonkheijm, this research is an important scientific step. "With this research we can now also incorporate real living building blocks in materials, while they retain their full function and mobility."
The researchers succeeded in changing the DNA of the E coli bacteria in such a way that the substance CB (a small molecule of two nanometres in size with a namederived from the resemblance of this molecule with a pumpkin of the family of Cucurbitaceae) attaches to a protein on the cell membrane. This substance may then again attach to other building blocks, forming a sort of natural Velcro.
The research was performed by Shrikrishnan Sankaran, Mustafa Can Kiren and Pascal Jonkheijm from the University of Twente Molecular Nanofabrication chair and was financially sponsored by the European Union.