Chilkoti Awarded $1.25 Million for Elastin Fusion Protein Development

A renewed grant from the National Institutes of Health will yield new peptide polymers with diverse applications.

Tosh Chilkoti, professor and chair of the biomedical engineering department at Duke, has been awarded a new, four-year, $1.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The award marks the fourth such grant Chilkoti has received for his work on elastin fusion proteins, which is now entering its 13th consecutive year of funding.

For more than a decade, Chilkoti and his team have investigated how to fuse strings of biomolecular building blocks called peptide sequences to proteins. This allows researchers to finely tune characteristics such as solubility in water, which can be used to develop novel methods to purify protein samples or deliver drugs by converting them into polymers.

Polymers can be used to deliver drugs that do not dissolve well in water by hiding them inside polymer nanoparticles, sort of like a nano-pill. Polymers can also be fused to protein or peptide drugs so that they are retained by the body for longer periods of time, improving their effectiveness.

With the renewed grant, Chilkoti will begin investigating a new class of peptide sequences.

“We’re proposing a radical departure from the kinds of sequences we used to work with,” said Chilkoti. “We’ve found a full new range of sequences that look and behave similarly to those that we’ve been investigating, but with important differences. As we learn more about them, we anticipate that we’ll be able to greatly expand the palette of applications that come about when you take these amino-acid-based polymers and genetically fuse them to proteins.”