New Collagen: Better than Nature?

FOR DECADES, DOCTORS HAVE USED COLLAGEN FROM COWS to treat arthritis, severe burns and other ailments that result from a breakdown of the body’s natural collagen. But a new alternative—human collagen engineered in the lab—is getting nearer. CALS biochemist Ron Raines, whose lab made the first synthetic human collagen in 2006, recently announced that his team has developed a form of collagen that is stronger than the real thing. “It’s by far the most stable collagen ever made,” says Raines. The breakthrough came by swapping out some of the amino acids in natural collagen with similar, but less-flexible alternatives, helping the synthetic collagen hold form. Raines says the synthetic collagen is indistinguishable from its natural form and could eliminate the risk of cross-species transplants.