Nature has evolved a huge range of mechanisms to allow life to survive in extreme conditions: From the sub-zero polar oceans and ice flows, to superheated underwater vents. These are termed extremophiles and are an extremely exciting source of inspiration for modern biotechnology. We are particularly interested in low temperature survival, especially that of polar fish species which flourish in polar oceans where the surface temperature is below - 2 oC . At these temperatures you or I would not last long..!
One of the key reasons why fish can survive here is that they produce a series of antifreeze (glyco)proteins. The most famous property of these proteins is their ability to lower the freezing point of water, to prevent blood from freezing. While this is interesting, we are more interested in a secondary property: ice recrystalisation inhibition. This is the ability of the proteins to stop ice crystals from growing larger.
It has been found that ice crystal growth during thawing is a major contributor to the failure of cryopreservation techniques (the storage of biological material at sub-zero temperatures). We are very interested in developing antifreeze-protein mimics to enhance cellular and ultimately organ storage.
There is a huge disconnect between donors and recipients in the transplantation medicine. The organ cannot be stored and must be transported rapidly to the recipient, with failure rates increasing with the time since removal. The abilty to cryo-store and bank tissue and organs would address an important unmet medical need.
Key References from the Group
Congdon, TC, Notman, R., Gibson, MI, Biomacromolecules, 2013, DOI 10.1021/bm400217j Antifreeze (Glyco)Protein Mimetic Behaviour of Poly(vinyl alcohol): Detailed Structure-Ice Recrystallisation Inhibition Activity Study
Biomaterials Science, 2013, DOI: 10.1039/C3BM00194F link , "Ice recrystallisation inhibition by polyols: comparison of molecular and macromolecular inhibitors and role of hydrophobic units"
Polymer Chemistry, 2010, 1, 1141-1152, "Slowing the Growth of Ice with Synthetic Macromolecules: Beyond Antifreeze(glyco) Proteins" link. Featured on the front cover of the Journal.