Seaweed-originated gels can become a new source of biocompatible substance for medical transplants that can also influence the environment in a positive way. Researchers from Wollongong University expect to mix together industrial seaweed farming and 3D printing and create biocompatible medical transplants. Seaweed essences are nowadays widely used in such daily used goods as toothpaste, skin care products, paint, ice cream and salad dressings. However, glycobiological research (which studies complex sugars called glycans) in living organisms shows that seaweed plays an important role in developing new biologically active substances for medical medications.
Gel molecules extracted from seaweeds are perfect candidates for medical transplants and tissue production because they can serve as an important structural basis and have also proved to restrain such microorganisms as fungi, viruses and bacteria. The gels have good compatibility with cells and can also provide the all the necessary conditions for healthy development of stem cells. Since these days one of the most urgent problems is the search for new polymer materials, seaweeds can become perfect candidates as sources of the materials.
Seaweed cultivation opportunities in Australia were occasionally considered in the past decades, but in 2009, a strategic group of researchers and people of industry under the Seaweeds Australia protection, located at Shoalhaven, concentrated on the lacking links in making this kind of industry come true. Winberg now continues this initiative concerning the appearance of a seaweed industry with the start-up operation Venus Shell Systems Pty Ltd.
A recently created cooperation with UOW’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) will find out and indicate how seaweeds can be utilized in medical research, especially in 3D printed transplants. Alginate, an essence from brown seaweeds, is widely used as a cell carrier by IPRI researchers and their colleagues at St Vincent Hospital Melbourne to assist regrowth of unhealthy and damaged tissue.
Other types of gels known as ulvans will be investigated for use as a cell bearer in the recently started BioPen, which will allow orthopaedic surgeons to bring living cells and growth factors straight to the location of injury, quickening the regeneration of functional bones and cartilages.
Winberg explained the distinctive characteristics of ulvans could be used for treating medical disorders like metabolic/diabetic stress or skin cancer by hindering the ferments that release sugar and diminishing tumor growth consequently. Ulvan gels can also be used as next-generation agent protecting from viruses and inflammations. IPRI Director Professor Gordon Wallace said that with the ability to adapt the origin of biopolymer supplies, more effective integration to the currently appearing techniques like 3D printing and fibre spinning becomes possible. Farming seaweed is also both economically and environmentally more beneficial. Seaweeds absorb waste products like carbon and nitrogen from the ocean, and are currently used all over the world for absorbing nutrient inputs from aquaculture and coastal industrial sources. They can also be used water oxydating and control localized ocean level of acid.
This seaweed production system in fact takes apart concentrated CO2 from industrial sources, which increases the level of bio-carbon uptake and transmits carbon to the biosphere, but not to the atmosphere. Waste streams of nitrogen will be taken away from clean industry sources, which otherwise can be lost in the catchment.