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We are entering a new phase in biomaterials research in which rational design is being used to produce functionalised materials tailored to specific applications. As is evident from this Themed Issue, there are now a number of distinct types of designed, self-assembling, fibrous biomaterials. Many of these are ripe for development and application for example as scaffolds for 3D cell culture and tissue engineering, and in templating inorganic materials. Whilst a number of groups are making headway towards such applications, there is a general challenge to translate a wealth of excellent basic research into materials with a genuine future in real-life applications. Amongst other contemporary aspects of this evolving research area, a key issue is that of decorating or functionalising what are mostly bare scaffolds. There are a number of hurdles to overcome to achieve effective and controlled labelling of the scaffolds, for instance: maintaining biocompatibility, i.e., by minimising covalent chemistry, or using milder bioconjugation methods; attaining specified levels of decoration, and, in particular, high and stoichiometric labelling; introducing orthogonality, such that two or more functions can be appended to the same scaffold; and, in relevant cases, maintaining the possibility for recombinant peptide/protein production. In this critical review, we present an overview of the different approaches to tackling these challenges largely for self-assembled, peptide-based fibrous systems. We review the field as it stands by placing work within general routes to fibre functionalisation; give worked examples on our own specific system, the SAFs; and explore the potential for future developments in the area. Our feeling is that by tackling the challenges of designing multi-component and functional biomaterials, as a community we stand to learn a great deal about self-assembling biomolecular systems more broadly, as well as, hopefully, delivering new materials that will be truly useful in biotechnology and biomedical applications (107 references).
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