Back in 2011 while in the lab of Katharina Ribbeck I started working on a project funded by the Johnson and Johnson Corporation. At the time J&J provided us with funds to simply explore some aspects of mucosal health. Our goal was to better understand how our mucus layer works to protect us and to elaborate new strategies for mucosal repair. In addition to this “no string attached” funding model offered by J&J (which is rare today) we had great support from J&J staff. Julie Hirsch and Anthony Geonnotti were particularly involved and provided experimental data and valuable feedback throughout the project.

This work resulted in interesting insights in the special role of glycosylation in the hydration and lubrication properties of mucins. This is important since decreased and altered glycosylation of mucins occur in several diseases and can, for instance, lead to dry eye or dry mouth symptoms. But even more exciting to me was our attempt to compensate for the lost of glycans on mucins molecules.

While working on understanding the effect of mucin deglycosylation we established a model for defective mucins, which had a decreased ability to hydrate and lubricate surfaces. We decided to replace the missing glycan structures by synthetic polyethylene glycol (PEG) polymers. We got the PEG to stick to the mucins by using glycan-binding proteins (lectin) as anchors. Obviously PEG molecules are far from recapitulating the complex glycan structures decorating the mucin molecules, but it was close enough! The attachment of PEG to the altered mucin increased hydration and lubrication of mucins on surfaces.

This work took a while to be fully completed, and we owe a great deal to Prof. Oliver Lieleg and his group for helping bring much of the tribology data into the paper. The paper was published in September of 2015 in Advanced Materials Interfaces and is available in Open Access.  A patent was also granted earlier this year.

The core message of this story is told in this picture that, I hope, is accessible to most.  You can find this infographic (large scale) and several others in the outreach section of the website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


1 2 3 4
February 11th, 2020

Postdoc position opening in mucus engineering

December 27th, 2019

New article on chitosan biocompatibility

October 3rd, 2019

Congratulation to Hongji for his latest paper on in vivo immune modulation of mucin hydrogels

May 27th, 2019

Congratulations to Georgia Petrou for graduating!

May 25th, 2019

Welcome to our new lab members

February 27th, 2019

New video of our work

January 7th, 2019

Looking for a postdoc in slime?

January 2nd, 2019

Protein Materials Conference 7-8th March 2019

December 13th, 2018

Celebrating the Nobel prize week with 70 young scientists

November 19th, 2018

New publication: Reversible Condensation of Mucins into Nanoparticles