Dynamic Synthetic Materials Could One Day Treat Brain Disorders

Our bodies are busy places. Neurons fire constantly, cells glean energy from food, and our immune systems ward off intruders. Each reaction or change is triggered by a biochemical signal. Biomedical scientists are now working on creating synthetic materials that are dynamic enough to treat or repair living systems.

“Materials in biology often function only when needed, and degrade when their role is over,” said Mohit Kumar, a postdoctoral associate at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The Graduate Center. “Creating synthetic analogs that can also change over time is a big challenge.”

In a recent paper published in Nature Chemistry, Kumar and co-authors from CUNY and the University of California, Irvine, describe how they can “program” molecules, via chemical signals, to arrange themselves into different nanostructures with properties that change over time.

Because some of the materials conduct electricity, team members hope that once they perfect the materials, researchers can use them in brains to correct misfiring neurons.

The team started with a specially designed base molecule. By adding different amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — to the mix, they chemically prompted the molecules to come together and fashion various nanomaterials.

One of these materials took the shape of nanofibers, about 16,000 times narrower than a human hair. The nanofibers can conduct electricity, giving them the potential to act as tiny, self-assembling electronic wires. The ‘wires’ degrade and stop conducting electricity over the course of two weeks, similar to molecules in our bodies that break down when their job is done.

The team plans to fine-tune control over the materials’ lifetimes and improve conductivity, in the hopes of someday putting these materials to work in biological systems.

“A long-term goal is to take this to the level of neuronal cells and use this in a living brain,” Kumar said.

The paper’s co-authors include Graduate Center Ph.D. student Nadeesha Wijerathne; ASRC process engineer Vishal Narang; director of the ASRC Nanoscience Initiative,Professor Rein Ulijn; and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine.

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“Amino-acid-encoded biocatalytic self-assembly enables the formation of transient conducting nanostructures”

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Mohit Kumar (Postdoctoral Research Associate) | Profile 1

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The Graduate Center

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Behind the Paper (Nature)

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