Contact: Dr. Ljiljana Fruk, Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology
Mentor: Dr. Dora Pereira

Cellulose is a biodegradable material which has many potential uses. It typically occurs in plants, but can be difficult to extract and purify. Therefore Dr. Fruk’s team focuses on developing bacterial cellulose, which can be grown in existing biotechnology facilities such as fermentation tanks, and can be produced in a very pure and crystalline form. This technique will be cheaper than extracting cellulose from plants, and the resulting cellulose will be easier to modify for each particular use.

One application which would be widely applicable in the developing world is to use the cellulose to produce low-cost, bio-compatible wound patches, either by seeding it with skin cells, or doping it with antimicrobial particles (eg silver nanoparticles) or even antibiotics. Compared to some existing animal-based solutions, this approach has the advantage of being plant-based, cheaper, and easier to handle, store and transport. It is also relatively simple to manufacture, using existing equipment, so should be possible to manufacture locally or on a per-country basis.

In the developed world a key market for wound patches is diabetic patients who frequently develop chronic wounds which are difficult to heal. Countries also have well-developed health services and easy transportation links. The researchers are keen to understand how this differs in a developing world context, and to use that knowledge to help focus and direct their future research.

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 be set up to ensure the patches can be used by the patients that need them?
  • Are there existing institutes or centres of excellence in particular countries that could work with us to develop local implementations of the technology?

In addition, bacterial cellulose has a wide range of other uses. 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. The i-Team will also be welcome to investigate these other areas as part of the project.