Manchester scientists create new bio-gel for 3D cell culture

Scientists at The University of Manchester have created a new type of 'bio-gel' which provides a pH neutral environment for culturing cells in 3D, as published in the journal Advanced Materials (March 2006).

The gel is the first pH neutral material made from combinations of dipeptides (pairs of amino acids) to provide an environment in which cells can be cultured under physiological conditions.

Uniquely, the gel mimics the properties of cell scaffolds which naturally occur in the body and has potential applications for wound healing and tissue engineering.

Cell scaffolds, known as the extra cellular matrix (ECM), are naturally produced by the body to grow new cells in order to repair damaged tissue. Like the ECM, the gel acts like a scaffold in which cells can grow.

In their paper, 'Nanostructured Hydrogels for Three-Dimensional Cell Culture Through Self-Assembly of Fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl-Dipeptides', Dr Rein Ulijn and collaborators describe how the gel is created through a process of self-assembly.

Dr Ulijn said: "We have used combinations of modified dipeptides which act like building blocks and spontaneously assemble into nanometer sized fibres when exposed to physiological conditions, to create a fibrous gel-like structure in which cells can be cultured. Because thismaterial is made up of 99% water and is pH neutral, it is compatible with biological systems.

"By using dipeptide building blocks instead of much larger oligo-peptides used by other researchers, we have greater control over the fibrous architecture and the physical properties of the gels. These materials offer us great potential for future applications in wound healing and regenerative medicine."

Dr Ulijn and his collaborators have successfully cultured cartilage cells using the gel. They found that both the properties of the gels formed and the cell response to the gels could be controlled by using different combinations of di-peptides. The team recently received a 630k award from EPSRC to develop the gels further.

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For further information:

Simon Hunter, Media Relations Officer, University of Manchester, telephone: 0161 2758387 or email: simon.hunter@manchester.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:
Pictures of Dr Ulijn and samples of the gel are available on request.

The Paper is available on request.

Dr Ulijn is Lecturer in Biomedical Materials within The University of Manchester's School of Materials, part of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

'Nano-structured Hydrogels for 3D Cell Culture through Self-Assembly of Fmoc-dipepetides' is published in the journal Advanced Materials: http://www.wiley-vch.de/publish/en/

The research builds on a previous research in which Dr Ulijn developed peptide hydrogel materials which changed their physical properties in response to enzymes.

This research is currently funded by the EPSRC.


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