Mucus is not only the rather disgusting slim that drops down your nose when you have a cold. It is also a extremely important part of our physiology. Without it, we could not survive very long.
The infographic to the left presents the various functions of mucus. From lubrication to hydration and protection against bacteria and viruses, mucus is a truly multifunctional material. Our group is developing new materials to harness these rich functionalities to repaire our mucosa, or to build implantable biomaterials that modulate the immune system or deliver drugs more efficiently
We humans are not the only animals relying on mucus. Snails, fish, corals and all mammals also use mucus to protect themselves and even to communicate and catch food.
The Hagfish example given bellow is the subject of study of the laboratory of Dr. Douglas Fudge at the University of Guelph in Canada. They are specialized in the study and engineering of hagfish slime. They also link towards a series of impressive videos on hagfish slime.
Mucins, are a family of molecules that composes our mucus. In our lab, we are looking at the potential of using mucins to build new materials that can solve biomedical challenges.
To the right, the infographic explains how we designed a new type of implantable gel that can release drugs over long period of time. This is the basis for this paper published in Acta Biomaterilia and available here in open access.
Of course this is only a first step. There is stilla lot of work to be done before mucins are implanted into patients to release drugs, or for other purposes. But if was important to show that if assembled correctly, mucin’s natural functionalities could be useful for biomedicine.
Next steps will include looking at other natural abilities of mucins, including its ability to calm the immune system and its ability to bind to bioactive proteins (growth factors). Learn more about these projects here.
This study was funded by J&J with the simple goal to better understand our mucus layer and its dysfunctioning, but also to elaborate new strategies for mucosal repair.
The results of this work gave us interesting insights on the role of glycosylation in the hydration and lubrication properties of mucins. This is important since decreased and altered glycosylation of mucins occur in several disease states and 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 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 attaching simply synthetic polyethylene glycol polymer (PEG) to the mucins. We got the PEG to stick to the mucins by using glycan-binding proteins (lectin) as anchors. Obviously PEG 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 was published in September of 2015 in Advanced Materials Interfaces and is available in Open Access.