A couple of ongoing projects in the group is looking at the applicability of mucins as materials. For instance, Dr. Hongji Yan is working on mucin hydrogel and their immune modulating properties and Georgia Petrou is working on their wound healing properties. I started working on mucins in the group of Katharina Ribbeck at MIT back in 2011. Freshly out of a PhD during which I assembled biomaterials from natural biopolymers such as heparin and hyaluronic acid, I saw mucins as extraordinary multifunctional molecules with largely untapped potentials.
And so, along with excellent colleagues at MIT, I started to build thin films, coatings, and hydrogels from mucin, exploring their antifouling properties, their dynamicity, their lubricity and hydration, and their ability to bind and release drugs. While building these materials and exploring their properties, we learn more about the mucins molecules and their physiological role. But we also explore new approaches to solving important biomedical challenges.
We are not alone to do this. Several other groups in the world are or have started exploring the use of mucins as a building block of biomaterials. The field is only nascent and was lacking a review article to give an overview of what has been achieved to this day. Georgia Petrou and I have filled that gap with a review article just published RCS’s Biomaterials Science: Petrou, G. & Crouzier, T. Mucins as multifunctional building blocks of biomaterials. Biomater Sci (2018). doi:10.1039/c8bm00471d).
Watch out my tweeter feed (@ThomasCrouzier) for a few fun facts about mucin extracted from the paper #mucinsrock !!
Mucins are large glycoproteins that are ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. Mucins coat the surfaces of many cell types and can be secreted to form mucus gels that assume important physiological roles in many animals. Our growing understanding of the structure and function of mucin molecules and their functionalities has sparked interest in investigating the use of mucins as building blocks for innovative functional biomaterials. These pioneering studies have explored how new biomaterials can benefit from the barrier properties, hydration and lubrication properties, unique chemical diversity, and bioactivities of mucins.
Owing to their multifunctionality, mucins have been used in a wide variety of applications, including as antifouling coatings, as selective filters, and artificial tears and saliva, as a basis for cosmetics, as drug delivery materials, and as natural detergents. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge regarding key mucin properties and survey how they have been put to use. We offer a vision for how mucins could be used in the near future and what challenges await the field before biomaterials made of mucins and mucin-mimics can be translated into commercial products.