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Building bioelectronic nanowires

Organic bioelectronics studies the development of devices that translate an electrical signal into a physiological response from cells, tissues or organs. Almost all work in the field of organic bioelectronics has used organic polymers and conjugated aromatic molecules where π-orbitals within the molecules are delocalized, giving rise to electronic mobility both along the chain and between adjacent chains through interaction between their π-orbitals. Adding or removing electrons to these material systems usually results in high electronic conductivity. However, although there have been numerous studies to increase the biocompatibility and stability of such materials, there are issues surrounding the toxicity and biological integration of these systems. A potential alternative is to use a peptide-assembled system. The vast majority of peptides are insulating by nature and require significant design and synthetic strategies to introduce any bioelectronic activity. We have an intensive research program based upon our discovery that peptides comprised entirely of beta-amino acids are able to spontaneously self-assemble into fibres (1). This self-assembly is based upon the unique secondary structure of beta-peptides which affords sequence-independent self-assembly meaning that these peptides can be modified without loss of self-assembly (2,3). Therefore, the aim of this project is to generate conducting peptide hydrogels that are biocompatible and able to distribute an electrical signal to cells. In order to achieve this, a conducting polymer will be used to decorate β-peptide fibres. Typically, organic conducting polymers are usually insoluble in aqueous systems however, incorporation of a self-assembly motif into the organic monomer prior to polymerization causes the compound to be soluble in water without perturbing conductivity. Therefore, utilizing modified polymers and our peptide scaffolds, we envisage the assembly of hybrid fibres that are conductive and still allow for the incorporation of bioactive signals. We believe this project will lead to the creation of bioelectronic gels and fibres. 1) Del Borgo MP, Mechler AI, Traore D, Forsyth C, Wilce JA, Wilce MCJ, Aguilar MI and Perlmutter P, ‘Supramolecular Self-Assembly of N-Acetyl capped β-Peptides Leads to Nano-to Macroscale Fibre Formation’. Angewandte Chemie Int Ed. (2013) 52, 8266-8270. 2) Kulkarni K, Motamed S, Habila N, Perlmutter P, Forsythe J, Aguilar MI and Del Borgo MP ‘Orthogonal strategy for the synthesis of dual-functionalised β3 peptide based hydrogels’. Chem Commun, (2016) 52, 5844-5847. 3) Motamed S, Del Borgo MP, Kulkarni K, Habila N, Zhou K, Perlmutter P, Forsythe J, and Aguilar MI, ‘A self-assembling β-peptide hydrogel for neural tissue engineering”. Soft Matter, (2016) 12, 2243-2246.
Essential criteria: 
Minimum entry requirements can be found here:
biomaterials, synthetic chemistry, organic chemistry, chemical engineering, bioengineering, materials science
Biomedicine Discovery Institute (School of Biomedical Sciences) » Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Available options 
Masters by research
Time commitment 
Top-up scholarship funding available 
Physical location 
15 Innovation Walk
Ketav Kulkarni

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