Yi Cao, Department of Physics, Nanjing University
Room 306,No. 5, Science Building
Designing synthetic protein hydrogels with tailored mechanical properties similar to naturally occurring tissues remains an enduring challenge in tissue engineering and stem cell and cancer research. Although there have been attempts to correlate the mechanical properties of protein hydrogels with the nanomechanics of individual building blocks, the correlation has been qualitative rather than quantitative. In this talk, we use single-molecule force spectroscopy, protein engineering and theoretical modeling to prove that the mechanical properties of protein hydrogels are predictable based on the mechanical hierarchy of the crosslinkers and the load-bearing modules at the molecular level. These findings provide a framework for rationally designing protein hydrogels with independently tunable elasticity, extensibility, toughness and self-healing. Using this principle, we demonstrate the engineering of self-healable muscle-mimicking hydrogels that can significantly dissipate energy though protein unfolding. We also demonstrate the engineering of double-network hydrogels using cooperative metal ion-ligand interactions with mechanical properties similar to articular cartilage. We expect that this principle can be generalized for the construction of protein hydrogels with customized mechanical properties for biomedical applications.