One of the projects ongoing in our group at KTH aims to develop the use of carbohydrate-binding proteins as polysaccharide cross-linkers in hydrogels and viscous formulations. We see this technology as a sustainable, fossil-free, and catalyst-free alternative to hydrogels made from petrochemicals and chemically modifed biopolymers. In 2021, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) supported this view by listing us as one of the Top 100 sustainable projects of the year.
Group leader Lauren McKee and postdoc Mengshu Hao co-founded the start-up company Glycolink AB in the autumn of 2021, with the goal of exploring commercialisation of this hydrogel technology. Our third and final co-founder is Mohamad Takwa, a serial biotech entrepeneur who has supported a number of successful start-ups. We are ably assisted by business developer Isak Edvardsson, who has worked alongside Mohamad for several years.
We filed our first patent application in November 2021 and are now pursuing several lines of basic research both at KTH and with partners. In the coming months we will be measuring the sustainability of our hydrogel-making innovation, testing the scaleability of our manufacturing processes, and screening the safety of our material for on-skin applications such as cosmetics and wound dressings.
In the earliest days of this project, I received an award from KTH Innovation that supported market research to verify the commercial viability of the material. Since 2019 our research in this area at KTH has been funded by the Swedish research council Formas. And most recently we secured a small business loan from Almi for hypothesis testing and MVP (minimal viable product) validation.
In February this year, we submitted our biomaterials-focussed project GlycoLink for consideration for inclusion on the list, and we are delighted to be one of the 70 projects the IVA has chosen to highlight. This is a project I have been working on for a long time, since I first observed an unusual binding interaction while testing protein activity on microbial polysaccharides. In late 2019, I was awarded funding by Formas, the Swedish national research council for sustainable development, and at the time of that award I was interviewed by the popular science magazine Extrakt (article in Swedish is at this link, my approximate translation into English is at this link).
In 2020, I used the Formas award to recruit Mengshu Hao as a post-doctoral fellow, and she has been working on this project full-time since the autumn of that year. Mengshu is, like me, a biochemist by training, and it has been a learning curve for both of us to pursue this line of biomaterials research, but Mengshu has made a tremendous effort to advance our understanding of the hydrogels we can produce. We have benefitted from collaboration with Qi Zhou and Salla Koskela of KTH, who have helped us to start a detailed rheological study of our gels, and who are co-applicants on our first patent application (submitted November 2021). We have also been working closely with Johan Larsbrink and Scott Mazurkewich of Chalmers University, Gothenburg to investigate the three-dimensional structures of our binding proteins.
We are currently working on two manuscripts that we plan to publish as soon as possible, describing the binding proteins we have discovered, and their exploitable polysaccharide interactions. We also plan for further collaborations with scientists at KTH and Stockholm University to respectively explore the polymer chemistry and biochemistry of our system. I look forward to being able to share the data from this project with you, both in publications and at conferences. I was happy to be able to share some information on the project at the recent Treesearch Progress 2022 event held in Kolmården, Sweden, which was also the first conference that our group could attend together post-Covid.