The protein known as collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, making up approximately 25 to 30 percent of the total protein content in mammals. Between 1930 and 1940, scientists were able to determine that at the molecular level it had a regular structure. Since that time, the understanding of collagen has increased greatly, as has the number of its uses. Scientists are researching the use of collagen in the growth of tissue and organs for transplantation.
Doctors also use it in burn therapy and it shows great promise for the reconstruction of tendons and ligaments when used as a tissue scaffold. It has long been used in cosmetics and cosmetic surgery and it is even used in food as gelatin, which is an irreversibly hydrolyzed form of collagen, and in sausage casings.
Collagen Then and Now
Historically, collagen has primarily come from animals and, currently, still does. The most common animal collagens in use include bovine, porcine and marine collagens. Although thoroughly sterilized, animal collagen presents a problem for medical uses since it can trigger an immune reaction. Accordingly, collagen research has focused on creating synthetic collagen that does not pose this risk.
Advent of Synthetic Collagen
Synthetic collagen is manufactured by attempting to duplicate the “assembly” process that occurs in natural collagen growth. The body forms collagen when chains of amino acids come together to create a triple helix, as seen in many protein-based molecules. What makes collagen different is its fibrous nature. This is important because as these collagen helices bond, they form a bundle of fibrous material that is then used in the formation of skin and connective tissue.
Recently there has been a much-heralded breakthrough in the growth of synthetic collagen. Researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas discovered a new method that mimics the natural growth or assembly of “native” collagen. This new collagen more closely resembles the naturally occurring collagen than anything that has been developed to date and is “self-assembling” like the native collagen produced in humans.
How Does Synthetic Collagen Compare to the Native Variety?
While this development is certainly exciting, it is important to realize that 28 different types of collagen have been identified to date. The most commonly occurring consist of a subset of five collagen types. These five collagen types are categorized as Collagen I through Collagen V. Briefly, Collagen I pertains to bone, tendon, skin, organ and vascular ligature or that which holds blood vessels and other liquid channels in the body in place. Collagen II is a major element in cartilage, while Collagen III is found in reticular connective tissue as collagen fibers. Collagen type IV helps form cell membrane basement bases and Collagen V is associated with hair, placenta and the surface of cells.
Finally, the new synthetic collagen produced at Rice University appears to be just like native collagen. The researchers have determined that the synthetic collagen breaks down in the presence of a certain enzyme, exactly as does native collagen. Although it will be some time before this new collagen is ready to be tested on humans, this new development in the growth of synthetic collagen has generated a lot of excitement in the scientific, academic and medical communities.
About the author: Guest post contributed by Tamera Stevens on behalf of BakerPlasticSurgery.com – click here to Visit Practice Website. Tamera is a freelance writer with extensive work experience in microbiology. Her articles appear on various health blogs.