Mimicking nature, we have developed a protective seashell-inspired capsule to preserve important, but fragile biomolecules needed to develop new drugs, vaccines and consumer products.
Preserving fragile biomolecules
Biomolecules, such as proteins and enzymes, are the building blocks of living organisms and hold a lot of promise in biotechnology.
Yet, because biomolecules are extremely fragile and their properties degrade when exposed to hostile environments, such as heat, pollution, pressure and bacteria, their effective use has been a big challenge to date.
For example, the active ingredients in vaccines must be kept within a cool temperature range, and therefore refrigerated, to ensure they remain effective.
This has made vaccine delivery problematic and expensive, particularly in developing countries, where vaccines often need to be transported over long distances, through extreme temperature to reach rural communities.
Mimicking seashell-protection for proteins and enzymes
Sea urchins and mollusks develop hard shells to protect their soft tissue in a process called 'biomineralisation'.
Our scientists, in collaboration with The University of Adelaide and the Australian Synchrotron, drew inspiration from this process to develop a hard molecular shell that grows around important biomolecules to protect them inside. This could enable them to be used effectively in a wide range of different products and processes in healthcare, manufacturing and chemical, food and water processing.
The team used an extremely porous material called metal organic frameworks (or MOFs) to create the shell, which grows around the molecules in a chemical reaction. The shell has a cage-like structure to protect the biomolecule while also allowing them to be released under certain conditions.
For example, they found that the biomolecules could be exposed to twice as much heat before degrading using this technology.
This could be used in vaccines so that they remain intact without the need for refrigeration, it could also pave the way to new drugs where biomolecules could be delivered more effectively to the body, and it could also improve the effectiveness of enzymes used in chemical products, such as laundry washing powder.
Paving the way to new drugs, vaccines and products
Our MOF shell technology is cost-effective solution for protecting biomolecules for a range of different applications.
Based on our laboratory trials, the shell could protect a vial of solution for a few dollars at most, but there is opportunity to make it even cheaper at a commercial scale.
We're now seeking to partner with industry to develop this technology for specific applications in healthcare, manufacturing and chemical, food and water processing.
The technology paves the way to exciting new and improved products that will improve global healthcare, as well as everyday lives.
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