Will you test other scaffold structures?
Synatschke: We made a preselection because it is impossible to test all the peptides. This would be far too elaborate, costly and also unethical. Our next step is to study whether our material can aid growth factors in the defect. Growth factors are proteins made by cells that can accelerate the growth of neurons for example. Typically, these proteins are quickly "washed away" from defects, making the concentration at the local site not very high. That’s why we want to artificially add proteins to increase the local concentration. Another idea is to lab-create chemical molecules that can mimic the primary functions of the proteins. They could then be attached to our material, creating continuously high concentrations of a messenger substance, which would accelerate peripheral nerve cell growth in the damaged system. We hope that this results in further improvement. Having said that, these are steps we plan to take in the future.
Once you succeed in developing this “wound gel” for human use, how difficult will it be to produce?
Synatschke: The benefit of this material is that these are short amino acids that we can already produce on an industrial scale without difficulty. You might have to adapt the actual application because the sequence is able to form several structures. Strict adherence to certain processes is necessary to get the desired structure. The technical implementation is easy but you need to ensure that this makes sense at the physician level at a later point in time. After all, a doctor doesn’t have 24 hours to wait until the material changes into the right structure and is applicable. That’s why you have to create formulations that can be used immediately because nerve injuries must be treated as quickly as possible.
How large can the nerve defect be for treatment with your material?
Synatschke: The defects in the mouse were millimeter-sized. However, other approaches consider bridging larger sections by premixing cells for example. If this is successful, I believe larger defects can also be bridged.