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Research on the design and characterization of protein-based hydrogels is highly relevant in Bioengineering due to the broad scope of biomedical and biotechnological applications, such as wound dressing compounds, extracellular matrices for tissue engineering, drug delivery by controlled release, food additives, and biosensors for detecting biological events. Biocompatibility and biodegradability are major advantages of protein-based hydrogels compared to synthetic materials. Proteins with intrinsic tendency to polymerize forming hydrogels under physiological conditions conserving their native three-dimensional structure are rare. Our laboratory has extensively studied the structure, function and polymerizing properties of the protein ASC, the adaptor of the inflammasome, which is the filamentous multiprotein complex that triggers the inflammatory response. ASC is composed of two Death Domains that are essential for its polymerization into filaments. By carefully controlling ASC pH-dependent polymerization, we have been able to generate non-covalent, pH-responsive hydrogels of full-length, folded ASC. We have demonstrated that other ASC natural isoforms involved in inflammasome regulation can undergo hydrogelation. Based on these results, we have engineered artificial proteins inspired by the ASC structure to form hydrogels. We used transmission and scanning electron microscopy to examine the structural network of natural and engineered ASC-derived hydrogels, as well as shear rheology to investigate their viscoelastic behavior. Our findings show that Death Domains can be utilized alone or as building blocks to manufacture bioinspired hydrogels, making them one of the very few examples of hydrogels formed by the self-assembly of globular proteins and domains in their native conformation.
Eduardo Gaspar-Morales is a first-generation college and graduate student, born and raised in Perris, California, to an immigrant family. Eduardo chose UC Merced to further his interest in Bioengineering, which is a growing field, and he continued to graduate school to further his interest in protein research. He received his B.S. in Bioengineering at the University of California Merced in 2020. He started his M.S. at UC Merced in 2021 with the de Alba lab. His research has centered on protein-based hydrogels derived from proteins with roles in inflammation.
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