Protein-based Aerogels: Processing and Morphology
Aerogels, partially or fully based on proteins, are emerging as promising sustainable biomaterials for a variety of applications, particularly in medicine and biosciences. Protein aerogels can be produced with similar morphologies as their more popular polysaccharide cousins, although potentially offering greater chemical wealth. Manipulation of the processing parameters, including the protein concentration, pH, ionic strength and drying method, allows control over the resulting morphology of the aerogel to suit a variety of different applications. Hybrid protein aerogels further broaden the possibilities for strong, lightweight and porous biocompatible materials by combining proteins with other non-proteinaceous polymers such as carbohydrates. Various biomedical applications including tissue engineering, wound dressing and drug delivery may draw benefits from protein aerogels. Biomedical applications require specific functionalities that can be customised by controlling the density, porosity and protein content of aerogels. Proteins in aerogel technology are also used in bio-specific detection and filtration, an exciting merger between the vast chemical variety of proteins and topology of aerogels. The prospect of a huge selection of functional protein types promises to stimulate the future of protein aerogels, potentially unearthing new applications for aerogels within medical and laboratory contexts.