Uncovering a glue for cells

15 June 2012

Dr. Jayachandran Kizhakkedathu, a 2011 MSFHR Scholar, recently published a paper that highlights work he has done to learn how lipid membranes on cells bind with polymers decorated with moieties carrying mirror image of lipid head group.

Understanding what makes cells stick to one another in presence of these new adherents has some very practical applications. It can help in the development of new mechanisms to deliver drugs, potentially even allowing drugs to be delivered to a specific part of the body without having to move through the whole bloodstream. It can also help in the development of tissue sealants to stop blood loss during a major injury.

What he and his team discovered is that polymers decorated with multiple "choline phosphate (CP)," which possess the inverse orientation of head group of a major lipid present on eukaryotic cell membrane called phosphatidyl choline (PC), the fundamental of all human cells, showed strong affinity for biological membranes. In fact, some bacteria make use of PC to penetrate healthy cells without being attacked by the body’s immune system. For the first time, they demonstrated a protein independent cell-adhesion mechanism.

In his research, Kizhakkedathu and his team used highly biocompatible hyperbranched polyglycerols modified with CP. They learned these molecules adhere particularly well to human cells and can be reversed with PC carrying polymers.