Michael (Seungju) Yu, PhD, an assistant professor in Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering in Baltimore is working to change the biochemical or mechanical properties of collagen to give it new medical applications. Traditionally, scientists have altered it by using intense heat or chemical reactions that may damage the protein or limit its safe use in humans. Yu’s method requires physical mixing of collagen with even smaller molecules called “collagen mimetic peptides.”

According to Yu, when the peptides bind with collagen, the attached agents can dramatically change the way collagen behaves in the body. For example, it normally attracts cells to close up a wound and form scar tissue. But this property is not always desirable; a clot can be dangerous inside a blood vessel or at certain injury sites, where scar tissue can interfere with the formation of new nerve connections.

“With this process,” says Yu “we can make the collagen that’s already found in the human body behave in new ways, including some ways that are not found in nature. Modified collagen can give us a great new tool for treating injuries and illnesses.”

[www.reedlink.com, May 16, 2006]