Non-animal gelatin a sweet treat for drug release

Helena Teles, who’s doing her doctoral research at the Netherlands-based Wageningen University, has a gelatin problem. Teles is looking for a gelatin hydrogen for medical applications that do not come from animal sources, which contain a certain about of risk because of potential virus contamination.

She thinks she’s found something that could be useful for drug delivery in gels custom-made proteins from the yeast Pichia pastoris. She found that when she included other proteins as ingredients in the gel, they leaked out nice and slowly. And this erosion causes the gel to slowly dissolve from the exterior to the interior. Degradation that is slow, linear and predictable is what drug-delivery researchers like to see.
Researchers Frits de Wolf and Marc Werten first cooked up the protein molecules, which collectively form a network and swell in water. Each molecule consists of two small end pieces and a large middle piece, all of which can be custom designed. The molecule's short ends bond with the other molecules to form a network. What comes out of the mix is a gel that can enclose medicine, antibodies or proteins that can eliminate viruses and bacteria.

And, like those pineapple chunks in Jell-O, you can embed pieces of protein into the gel molecules themselves. "Because we can adjust their properties, these gels from biomaterial are also very suitable for other applications, for example, to cover a wound, to reinforce connective tissue or to seal off blood vessels during an operation,” De Wolf says.

- read the Wageningen release
- and read more about Helena Teles’ work