ELPs: A New Vehicle for Drug Transportation

The field of drug therapy and molecular engineering is constantly changing and exploring new options to improve efficiency. One main issue when creating new drugs is controlling how long it can stay in someone’s system before it is removed, as well as accuracy. Many research labs have begun looking into new polymers, especially ones that can be grown in bacterial cultures, to assist in the transportation of drugs. I am working this summer in the Chilkoti Lab to investigate a biopolymer that is being tested as a future drug delivery option.

My main project involves assisting my lab mentor, Anastasia Varanko, in growing and harvesting elastin-like polypeptides. Also known as ELPs, these polymers can be grown in bacteria and have a unique property of changing solubility based on temperature. When it is at lower temperatures, it becomes more soluble, and at higher temperatures it can become insoluble. This temperature threshold can be modified through molecular engineering, and allow scientists to control when it aggregates. It is then possible to keep the ELP at a lower temperature for first injecting the drug, and after entering the body it can become insoluble and extend its circulation in the blood. This leads to an overall more long-lasting and efficient drug. Other proteins can also be added to the ELPs, which may be utilized to transport proteins into the body. This includes receptor blockers that can inhibit or enhance different pathways. 

My main focus will be collecting ELPs from bacteria and purifying them, as well as attaching different proteins to the ELPs using transformation on bacteria. I look forward to continuing my work in the lab throughout this summer and hopefully creating a stable protein that can be used for future drug applications.

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