How do you turn protein into glass?

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A glassified bead of lysozyme was formed by gently extracting water from a droplet of protein solution. The dimple at lower right is the 25-micron bead’s contact point with a micropipette. The new glassification technique could bring about protein-based drugs that are cheaper to make and easier to deliver than current techniques which render proteins into freeze dried powders to preserve them. (Credit: Deborah Rickard/Pratt School of Engineering)

DUKE (US)—Researchers have devised a method to dry and preserve proteins in a glassified form that seems to retain the molecules’ properties as workhorses of biology.

Their glassification technique could bring about protein-based drugs that are cheaper to make and easier to deliver than current techniques which render proteins into freeze dried powders to preserve them.

Duke University engineer and chemist David Needham describes the glassification process as “molecular water surgery” because it removes virtually all the water from around a dissolved protein by almost magically pulling the water into a second solvent.

“It’s like a sponge sucking water off a counter,” says Needham, a professor of  mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

He has formed a company called Biogyali (“gyali” means glass in Greek) to develop the innovation. That firm has also applied to patent the idea of turning proteins into tiny glass beads at room temperature for drug delivery systems.

In a report published online in the Biophysical Journal, Needham describes how his team carefully controlled water removal during glassification by releasing single tiny droplets of water-dissolved protein into the organic solvent decanol with a micropipette.

Preliminary evaluations showed that four test proteins undergoing such procedures retained all or most of their original activity when water was restored.

Having devised a way to turn proteins into glassy microbeads measuring only about 26 millionths of a meter in diameter, Needham hopes those can be directly injected into the body for use as “biologic” drugs.

The National Institutes of Health supported the research.

Duke University news: www.dukenews.duke.edu

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