Waterborne Electrospinning of α-Lactalbumin Generates Tunable and Biocompatible Nanofibers for Drug Delivery

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Protein-based drug carriers are an interesting alternative to traditional polymeric drug delivery systems due to their intrinsic biocompatibility and biodegradability. Electrospinning of neat proteins holds advantages over electrospinning of protein mixtures, e.g., whey isolates, such as better control of the physicochemical and biological function of the resulting nanofiber-based system. In this study, we explore electrospinning of the isolated milk protein α-lactalbumin (ALA), which is a whey protein with important nutritional and pharmacological properties. Via waterborne electrospinning of ALA with a minimum amount of poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) as a cospininng polymer, nanofibers of high protein content were successfully produced (up to 84% (w/w)). We demonstrate the ability to produce ALA-based nanofibers with a high degree of tunability in terms of size, stability in water, and mechanical properties. The nanofibers displayed excellent biocompatibility in vitro as the viability of cultured TR146 human buccal epithelium and NIH 3T3 murine fibroblast cells was not influenced by exposure to ALA-based nanofibers. ALA-based nanofibers were loaded with up to 6% (w/w) ampicilin, and the nanofibers were capable of maintaining the activity of the antibiotic after electrospinning and cross-linking. Using such a property of the material, we demonstrate that ampicillin-loaded nanofibers successfully inhibit the growth of Gram-negative bacteria in vitro. Importantly, after treatment with ampicillin-loaded nanofibers, no bacterial regrowth was observed, which indicates that this treatment may clear eventual persisters to ampicillin. Finally, the structural properties of the native functional protein were maintained after release of ALA from the nanofibers. This promotes our platform, not only as a sustainable protein-based drug delivery system, but also as an innovative solid form of ALA for food and pharmaceutical applications.

Original languageEnglish
JournalACS Applied Nano Materials
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1910–1921
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • antibiotics, drug delivery, electrospinning, Gram-negative bacteria, green chemistry, sustainable protein-based materials, α-lactalbumin

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