Proteins at Interfaces

Until a few years ago, the development of a protein film (known as "protein corona") on the surface of polymeric materials was known but not well understood. Since then, our Institute has set out to acquire a deep understanding of the parameters that control how such a protein coating is formed, and what is its effect in the biological medium. 

In parallel we also research ways to reduce ("stealth" effect) or completely suppress (superamphiphobicity) protein adsorption. When the protein adsorption on a material cannot be avoided, we find ways to exploit the properties of the adsorbed proteins to confer new properties to the material. 

Polymeric nanoparticles find application in biomedical therapeutics and diagnostics. If the surface of the nanoparticle is not properly treated, upon injection in the human body, the protein corona will readily form.  Thus, it is this  "protein corona" enveloping the polymeric nanoparticle that determines the interactions between the nanoparticle and the cell. The composition of the protein corona can be engineered to favor the targeting of specific cells so that, for instance, the drug cargo hidden inside of the nanoparticle, is only delivered where needed and less medicine needs to be used. 

The polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG) is the preferred coating for nanoparticles for biomedical applications because of its ability to reduce protein adsorption, but in the last few years a dramatic increase of allergic reactions triggered by this polymer have been observed. At our Institute, we work on solving this problem using two strategies: on one hand, diminishing the amount of PEG needed for the coating of the surface while preserving the nanoparticle performance, while on the other, looking for alternative biocompatible polymers with similar protein-repelling characteristics to those of PEG.

Our work on the topic of  proteins at interfaces thus goes from the design of molecular function via controlled structure formation to functional systems and depends on the use and development of cutting-edge techniques. 

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