Lightening of Tissue Formation – ScienceDaily
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It makes up a third of the protein content and individual strands join together to form stable fibers that structure connective tissue such as skin, tendons, cartilage and bones. Researchers at ETH Zurich have now developed a multi-component molecule that interacts with collagen and can be illuminated with the new tissue growth in the body.
Our bodies begin to produce more collagen when wounds heal – or when tumors grow. The fibrous collagen molecules network to form stable fibers. This requires LOX enzymes that oxidize certain places in the collagen molecules. The chemically altered sites then react with one another on different collagen strands, causing the strands to fuse together.
Sensor combined with functional peptide
Under the direction of Prof. Helma Wennemers, professor at the Laboratory for Organic Chemistry at ETH Zurich, the research team developed a sensor molecule with inducible fluorescence. The molecule itself is not fluorescent, but after reacting with the LOX enzyme it begins to glow. In this way, the sensor molecule acts as a marker for the LOX activity. Next, the scientists combined this molecule with a short fibrous peptide similar to collagen. They conjugated this peptide with what is known as a reactive group, which only reacts with collagen when it has been oxidized.
In collaboration with researchers from Sabine Werner’s group, professor of cell biology, the scientists carried out experiments with mice whose skin had been injected with the multi-component molecule. They also performed in vitro experiments on tissue sections. Their research showed that the molecule anchors itself to collagen fibers, where new tissue is formed. And it lights up when new tissue grows and the LOX enzyme is formed. “Thanks to its modular structure with three components – the sensor, the peptide and the reactive group – our system is exceptionally specific and precise,” says Matthew Aronoff, lead scientist in Wennemers’ group and first author of the study.
Applications in oncology and wound healing
Since new tissue forms, especially at the edges, when tumors grow, the new molecule is used in biopsy examinations to reveal the boundaries of a tumor. “One of our visions is that one day surgeons will use this molecule in the operating room to remove a tumor,” says Wennemers. The molecule would show surgeons the border of the tumor and help them remove it completely.
Other possible uses of the new marker molecule are in the area of wound healing, for example to examine tissue formation in general or healing disorders in patients with diabetes or other diseases. Such questions are also dealt with as part of the interdisciplinary skin research project Skintegrity, in which ETH Zurich is involved.
Now that their system has been patented, the scientists are currently examining various ways of bringing it to market and developing it for a wider range of applications.