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 seaweed has a major role to play in the development on new and biologically active materials for medical treatments.
Gel molecules taken from seaweeds are ideal candidates for medical implants and tissue engineering because they provide the necessary structural support and have also been found to act as a frontline defence and communication system in supporting or inhibiting the interaction with microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. This would provide researchers with a broader range of biocompatible materials with the ability to fight infectious diseases.
"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," Dr Winberg said.
The development of seaweed cultivation opportunities for
A recently established collaboration with
However the opportunities that exist by collaboration with marine scientists will extend the spectrum of biologically compatible, active and printable materials in a big way. 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 BioPen, 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.
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 tumour growth and increase elasticity. Antiviral and anti-inflammatory agents and next-generation anti-bacterial solutions have also been proposed as uses for ulvan gels.
IPRI Director Professor
Farming seaweed also provides environmental and economic benefits. 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. They can also be used to oxygenate water and overcome localised ocean acidification.
"Our seaweed production systems actually strip concentrated CO2 directly from industrial sources - thus increasing the rate of biological carbon uptake and shifting carbon to the biosphere instead of the atmosphere," Dr Winberg said. "We will also take waste streams of nitrogen from clean industry sources, which would otherwise be lost in the catchment.
"As with all systems introduced by people, you need to have good local management practices. For example we use local species not introduced ones. We need to design systems that look after and improve the local environment. That is the opportunity that seaweed industries in
Dr Winberg envisions that
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