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Rapid repair and stitchless surgery

A team from the University of Sydney has used the NCI supercomputer to develop a wound repair material that helps speed up healing.

The team, led by Professor Tony Weiss, McCaughey Chair in Biochemistry in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, also developed a light-activated gel that can seal wounds, replacing the need for stitches.

Earlier this year, in one of Australia’s biggest biomedical sales, the startup company founded to commercialise the new technology, Elastagen, was sold for several hundred million dollars to Allergan, an international pharmaceutical company based in Ireland.

The breakthrough material is a synthetic version of the body’s natural elastin protein, which helps the skin to reduce scars, retain its shape and repair wounds. The use of elastin to repair wounds also accelerates healing, as the body can more easily respond to protein that it already recognises.

Producing a material like this required the research team to model elastin down to its smallest functional components using advanced computational methods on NCI’s supercomputer, explains lead researcher and Elastagen co-founder Professor Tony Weiss. The team also modelled the protein’s behaviour in water, to understand exactly how it works inside the body’s aqueous environment.

Professor Weiss says, “It is incredibly useful for us to understand how all of these components fit together, and how we can get them to self-assemble. The only way for us to get this understanding is with computer modelling.

“There is a big step up in complexity when you go from modelling the individual components to modelling the entire combined structure and its interplay with water. But that’s what we needed to do to figure out how we were going to be able to put the elastin protein together ourselves.”

Using one of the body’s crucial proteins in this way is a major innovation. In coming years, the first clinical uses of this medical research will start appearing.

In time, this breakthrough technology will significantly improve the way we treat many kinds of injuries and surgeries around the world.

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