Protein-based biomaterials offer several advantages over synthetic materials, owing to their unique stimuli-responsive properties, biocompatibility and modular nature. Here, we demonstrate that EC, a recombinant protein block polymer, consisting of five repeats of elastin like polypeptide (E) and a coiled-coil domain of cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (C), is capable of forming a porous networked gel at physiological temperature, making it an excellent candidate for injectable biomaterials. Combination of EC with Atsttrin, a chondroprotective engineered derivative of anti-inflammatory growth factor progranulin, provides a unique biochemical and biomechanical environment to protect against post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) onset and progression. EC gel was demonstrated to provide prolonged release of Atsttrin and inhibit chondrocyte catabolism while facilitating anabolic signaling in vitro. We also provide in vivo evidence that prophylactic and therapeutic application of Atsttrin-loaded EC gels protected against PTOA onset and progression in a rabbit anterior cruciate ligament transection model. Collectively, we have developed a unique protein-based gel capable of minimally invasive, sustained delivery of prospective therapeutics, particularly the progranulin-derivative Atsttrin, for therapeutic application in OA.
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