Jan.20, 2014

Australian researchers are farming and processing seaweeds from the sea aimed at producing biomaterials such as ingredient for 3D printing BioPen.

Seaweed extracts are already commonly used in goods as diverse as toothpaste, skin care products, paint, ice cream and salad dressing. However, research in the field of glycobiology – the study of complex sugars called glycans in living organisms – is showing that gel molecules taken from seaweeds are ideal candidates for medical implants and tissue engineering because they provide the necessary structural support. They also found that seaweed acts as a frontline defense and communication system in supporting or inhibiting the interaction with microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.

“These gels are highly cell compatible and even stimulate the health and development of human stem cells, so in the instance of looking for new polymer materials for medical implants, seaweeds are a key candidate for the source of such materials,” said Dr Pia Winberg at University of Wollongong (UOW).

In collaboration with marine scientists at UOW’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI), the lead node in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), Dr Winberg and colleagues will investigate how the properties of seaweeds can be harnessed for medical research, particularly in 3D printed implants and for cell compatible materials with bioactive properties. Alginate, an extract from brown seaweeds, has already been used as a cell carrier by IPRI scientists and their partners at St Vincent Hospital Melbourne to aid regrowth of diseased and injured tissue.

Other gels known as ulvans will be extracted from the seaweed farmed at the Shoalhaven site and studied for use as a cell carrier in the recently launched 3D printing BioPen, developed by ACES researchers, which will enable orthopaedic surgeons to deliver live cells and growth factors directly to the site of injury, accelerating the regeneration of functional bone and cartilage.

The BioPen works similar to 3D printing methods: It layers cell material inside a biopolymer such as alginate, a seaweed extract, protected by a second, outer layer of gel material. The two layers of gel are combined in the pen head as it is extruded onto the bone surface and the surgeon 'draws' with the ink to fill in the damaged bone section.

Dr Winberg said the unique properties of ulvans could be used in medical treatments such as in the gut for inhibiting enzymes that release sugar and thus slow down metabolic/diabetic stress, in the blood as an anticoagulant or on skin to reduce tumor growth and increase elasticity. Antiviral and anti-inflammatory agents and next-generation anti-bacterial solutions have also been proposed as uses for ulvan gels.

Farming seaweeds is also beneficial to the environment and the economy. Seaweeds strip waste products such as carbon and nitrogen from the ocean and are being used around the world to absorb nutrient inputs from aquaculture and coastal industrial sources. Further, they can be used to oxygenate water and overcome localized ocean acidification.

Dr Winberg envisions that Australia can contribute to this global, 18 million tonne biomass industry in a very sophisticated way with a focus on biotech applications.


Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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