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Research

Macromolecular Self-assembly

Principal investigator: Helena AZEVEDO
Co-investigator(s): Remzi BECER

HA chemical structure and major constituents of cartilage matrix. Aggrecan is immobilized within the matrix by forming supramolecular aggregates with HA and link protein. This HA-aggrecan complex provides the tissue with its ability to respond to compressive loads. Macromolecules are compounds with high molecular mass which structure comprise the multiple repetition of units derived from molecules of low relative molecular mass. Examples of macromolecules are biopolymers (nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates) and synthetic polymers. The chemical and structural diversity of macromolecules offer multiple interactions for self-assembly with other molecules. Polysaccharides are produced in nature with remarkable chemical and structural diversity. Hyaluronan (HA) is a highly abundant anionic polysaccharide found throughout the mammalian connective tissues. HA has been recognized as an organizer of the extracellular matrix (ECM) in different tissues. For example, HA is a strategic player in cartilage ECM, functioning as the central filament of the cartilage proteoglycan aggregate (aggrecan).

Self-assembled biomimetic membranes presenting different percentages of cell-adhesive ligands for culturing human fibroblasts under serum free conditions. “Hyaluronan and self-assembling peptides as building blocks to reconstruct the extracellular environment in skin tissue”, DS Ferreira, AP Marques, RL Reis, HS Azevedo, Biomater. Sci., 2013, 1, 952,  Reproduced by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) .The dynamic flexibility of HA, associated with its simplicity, make it a versatile macromolecular template to create supramolecular structures. We aim to combine biological inspiration with the tools of chemistry, physics and engineering to understand and develop self-assembling systems based on hyaluronan and synthetic peptides and investigate the possibilities of using these advanced biomaterials in regenerative medicine applications. We also aim to explore alternative macromolecules with novel functionalities (synthetic block copolymers, collaboration with Dr Becer) to develop custom-tailored peptide-polymer hybrid supramolecular biomaterials.