Nanotechnology is a rapidly growing science of producing and utilizing nano-sized particles invisible to the naked eye. In biomedicine, nanosilver is one of the most studied nanomaterials because of its natural antibacterial, antifungal, and even anti-inflammatory properties. Also, due to its unique electrical, optical, and chemical properties, much research into improving the in-vitro stability and toxic side-effects of nanosilver has been undertaken in recent years. However, relatively little progress has been made in improving its stability in biological systems.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI), in partnership with Dr. Horacio Poblete of the University of Talca and Professor Jeff Comer of Kansas State University, may soon change that. The study, which examined the role of peptide chain length in stabilizing silver nanostructures, has recently been published on the front cover of one of the leading journals in Materials Chemistry, J. Mat. Chem. B. The findings of the study are believed to have major implications for the future of engineering nanomaterials such as nanosilver for safe use in biomedical devices.
“We wanted to engineer new particles in a way that they become safe for future incorporation in biomedical devices,” explained research lead Dr. Emilio I. Alarcon, a Scientist in the Division of Cardiac Surgery and Director of the Bio-nanomaterials Chemistry and Engineering Laboratory at the UOHI. Dr. Alarcon’s research team focuses on the fabrication, development and implementation of new materials with regenerative capabilities for tissue regeneration of heart, skin, and soft tissues.
We believe newly engineered nanoparticles will someday be able to help treat patients with chronically infected wounds, diabetic foot patients, and even patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.
- Dr. Emilio I. Alarcon
Through his research, Dr. Alarcon and his colleagues identified a new amino acid sequence which, at micromolecular concentrations, is capable of stabilizing nanosilver. “Normally, one needs large concentrations of molecules to protect nanosilver. Our newly engineered peptides can do the same with much lower concentrations,” said Dr. Alarcon. “We are hopeful this discovery will lead to more meaningful developments in reducing the costs associated with stabilizing nanosilver, while at the same time minimizes the risk of potential side-effects in future patients.”
“The next frontier in biomaterials is the design of hybrid composite structures, which will provide more than a single property to a given biomaterial,” he added. “To achieve this, it is needed to engineer novel nanostructures with anchoring arms for safely attaching those to the matrices.”
While the results of the study prove to be promising, Dr. Alarcon says there is still more research to be done. “We are now working on using those new peptides to tether nanostructures to different polymeric scaffolds which will provide otherwise inert materials with all the best properties of nanosilver. It is like a chimera,” he said.
Dr. Alarcon et al’s study was funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and in part by the National Science Foundation.
Read Dr. Alarcon et al’s paper, titled Novel specific peptides as superior surface stabilizers for silver nano structures: role of peptide chain length.