Healing burns with squid teeth
Restoring damaged skin using a protein found in squid sucker ring teeth, that is our goal. We are a group of ambitious Leiden University students participating in a worldwide synthetic biology competition. That’s why the Leiden iGEM team needs your help!
Healthy skin is strong, elastic and self-healing. However, the skin can be damaged to the point where it cannot heal anymore, for example, when it is severely burnt. Currently, doctors don’t have sufficient treatments to restore the skin of burn victims. This is where we want to make a difference. With the help of a squid protein.
The protein is called suckerin and it was discovered only recently. Scientists see great potential in the protein to help burn victims. Suckerin naturally occurs in the sucker ring teeth of the Humboldt squid. The squid uses these teeth to hook its prey. They, therefore, must be both strong and flexible, for if they are not, the teeth will break and the prey will simply swim away. These exceptional material properties make suckerin uniquely suited to replace human skin.
Besides squids, bacteria too can produce the protein. In our project, we want to develop a large-scale, bacteria-based suckerin production method, with which we want to produce a form of suckerin that mimics human skin. This would lay the foundation for an entirely novel way of treating burns.
Improving burn wound treatment
Severe burns cannot be cured, they have a debilitating effect and can even cause death. According to the World Health Organization, burn injuries are one of the major contributors to loss of life quality. Furthermore, 180.000 burn victims die from their injuries every single year, often in third world countries. These countries have limited money and resources for treatment. A biomaterial that has similar properties to the human skin, as well as a low production cost, would be an ideal solution for these countries.
Suckerin: an extremely versatile biomaterial
While one of the most promising applications of suckerin is substituting human skin, the protein also has great potential for mimicking liver and bone tissue. Even in non-medical uses, suckerin holds great promise, like, for example, as a bioplastic.
Production using bacteria
We want to explore these possibilities comprehensively. To do this, we will reprogramme bacteria into miniature factories that produce different forms of suckerin. We will analyse the structure of these forms and their composition working towards a type of suckerin that has the ideal properties for treatment of burnt skin. As an end result, we want to have a non-toxic gel with hydrating, antimicrobial ánd wound healing properties, all in one. This could provide the foundation for a medicine that will significantly reduce the risk of infection from burn injuries.
For our project, we need your help! With your contribution, we can purchase the necessary materials and devices, like the bioreactors we need to make a functional hydrating gel. With your help, we hope to increase the world’s knowledge about suckerin and thus make a significant contribution to the medical world.
The Leiden iGEM team 2019 from left to right: Maarten Lubbers, Bachelorstudent Biology - Steijn Beekman, Bachelorstudent Molecular Science and Technology - Jonah Anderson, Bachelorstudent Life Science and Technology - Tobias Fecker, Masterstudent Biology - Floor Stel, Masterstudent Biology - Alejandro Marquiegui, Bachelorstudent Biochemistry - Jo-Anne Verschoor, Masterstudent Biology - Daniël Tan, Bachelorstudent Biology - Vera Williams, Masterstudent Media Technology - Daan van Tol, Bachelorstudent Biology - Melanie Ofman, Masterstudent Biology
Our team is active on social media. Every week, we give updates on our project, announce activities we organise and lectures we give. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our progress.