Protein-based hydrogels have attracted considerable interest due to their potential biomedical applications. However, it is a major challenge to engineer protein hydrogels with dynamic properties to mimic the inherent dynamic nature of biological processes.
A team for the the University of British Columbia’s chemistry department have now announced the first stimuli-responsive dynamic protein hydrogel whose mechanical properties can be dynamically tuned in response to external stimuli. They designed a redox-controlled protein switch that is capable of switching between its “folded” and “unfolded” states. This redox-responsive protein can be readily photochemically crosslinked into solid hydrogels. Upon changing of redox potential, this hydrogel exhibits dynamic mechanical and physical properties in a fully reversible fashion. When reduced, the hydrogel swells and is mechanically compliant. When oxidized, it swells to a less extent and becomes resilient and stiffer. The researchers believe that their novel system may find numerous applications in tissue engineering by enabling investigation of cell response to dynamical tuning of mechanical properties of substrates.