Cellulose is a biodegradable material and the most common organic molecule on earth. It has many uses, the most common of which are for clothes and books, and more recently it has been explored as a biofuel.
Cellulose typically occurs in plants, but can be difficult to extract and purify. A research team at the University of Cambridge focuses on developing bacterial cellulose, which can be grown in existing biotechnology facilities such as fermentation tanks, and can be produced in a pure and crystalline form. This technique is not only cheaper than extracting cellulose from plants, but the resulting cellulose is also easier to modify for particular uses.
One application for bacterial cellulose is low-cost, biocompatible wound patches. Bacterial cellulose wound patches can be produced either by seeding the cellulose with skin cells, or doping it with antimicrobial particles (e.g. silver nanoparticles) or even antibiotics. When compared with existing animal-based solutions, this approach has the advantage of being plant-based and cheaper as well as being easier to handle, store and transport. It is also relatively simple to manufacture the biocompatible wound patches using existing equipment, which should facilitate their manufacture at a local level.
A key market for wound patches so far has been amongst diabetic patients, who frequently develop chronic wounds, which are difficult to heal. This has primarily been in countries with well-developed health services and easy transportation links. The researchers, therefore, are keen to understand how application of this biotechnology might differ in the context of developing countries, in order to help focus and direct their future research.
Consequently, the focus for the i-Team is to investigate where the technology can have the greatest impact in the developing world, and how it can be best implemented to make it easily available to patients and medical personnel. Specific questions include:
- What kinds of wounds need to be treated in different contexts and over what length of time
- How can the manufacturing and distribution of wound patches be set up to ensure that they can be used by the patients that need them?
- Do institutes or centres of excellence exist that could work with us to develop local implementations of the technology and in which countries are they located?
Bacterial cellulose has a wide range of other uses, which the i-Team might also investigate. For example it can be used to make filters with a range of porosities for water purification, or it can be further processed to produce biodegradable plastics.
i-Teams website link: