Heating a ‘robotic’ protein proved to be the key to making an effective ointment that speeds healing in those with poor blood circulation.
A low cost, nano-sized medication to treat chronic wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers or burns, has been developed by scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harvard Medical School and others in the United States and Japan.
Diabetes, which affects close to three percent of the world’s population, leads to poor blood circulation. When people who have diabetes are injured, their poor circulation keeps wounds from healing well. The result is often pain, infection, nerve damage and even, in extreme cases, amputation of limbs.
Proteins called growth factors have been found to speed up the healing process. But purifying these growth factor proteins is a costly endeavor, and worse, the purified proteins do not stick for long to the wound site.
Now, scientists at the Hebrew University and Harvard have found a solution. With the help of genetic engineering techniques, they were able to produce a “robotic” growth factor protein that responds to temperature changes. Increasing the temperature causes dozens of these proteins to fold together into a nanoparticle so tiny that it measures more than 200 times smaller than a single hair.
Once the proteins are folded into nanoparticles, it becomes much simpler – and therefore cheaper — to purify them. And as an added bonus, the same procedure also enables the growth factor to be confined and to remain on the burn or wound long enough to effect healing.
Heating leads to healing
The scientists refer to their discovery as robotic, since just as robots are machines that respond to their environment by carrying out a specific activity, so too this protein they have developed responds and reacts to heat.
According to an article on the project in the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research group’s experimental drug was patented and developed as a topical ointment. In experiments conducted on diabetic mice with chronic wounds, the ointment dramatically increased the healing rate. The researchers’ goal is to proceed to human clinical trials after future tests and refinements.
The topic is of particular interest in light of the fact that adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetes is growing to epidemic proportions in many of the world’s developed countries. This type of diabetes is more common in African, Latino, Asian and Pacific Island populations, as well as among the aged.
The authors of the article are Dr. Yaakov Nahmias, director of the Center for Bioengineering in the Service of Humanity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Dr. Zaki Megeed, Prof. Robert Sheridan and Prof. Martin L. Yarmush of the Harvard Medical School and Shriners Hospitals for Children; Prof. Piyush Koria of the University of South Florida; and Dr. Hiroshi Yagi and Dr. Yuko Kitagawa of the Keio University School of Medicine in Japan.