Throughout history, societies have enjoyed the nutritional and medical virtues of seaweed. But a group of scientists found another interesting use for algae: healing wounds in humans through bioprinting.
When we have small wounds on our skin or muscles, they usually heal by themselves. But in deeper wounds repair is more difficult. These sorts of issues often require more serious treatments, and in very extreme cases, may even need an amputation or a transplant if healing is not complete. This is when technology such as bioprinting enters the stage.
Bioprinting means using materials or inks made from biological sources such as seaweed gels or printed with biological ingredients such as human skin cells. These bio-inks can be combined and printed to create structures that can grow new tissue in the desired place or shape. They can be controlled chemically at the molecular level.
Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterial Science (ACES) and the University of Wollongong have been working on one particular type of bio-ink from an Australian green seaweed — a seaweed with a molecular structure similar to that in human connective tissue. The ink belongs to a group of molecules know as ulvan.
Marine algae are nature’s most abundant plant source of sulfated polysaccharides (complex glycan sugars) – such as fucans in brown algae (Phaeophyta), carrageenans in red algae (Rhodophyta), and ulvans in green algae (Chlorophyta). These gel-like glycans are large molecules with biological properties that carry many health benefits. Ulvan has a long list of biological properties including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-coagulant, which has made it especially interesting to researchers. Its molecular signature can trigger functions in human cells such as attachment, growth and production of other molecules such as collagen. This means that bio-inks with ulvan could be used for wound healing and tissue regeneration.
In a new paper, ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace and his team described the potential of such a bio-ink with ulvan. The presence of it leads to the proliferation of cells involved in wound healing, they argued. Ulvan also helps to regulate the function of cells in producing key biomolecules used during wound healing.
“Wound healing occurs in a 3D environment involving a number of cell types and biomolecules, so the use of 3D bioprinting to create scaffolds for wound healing has attracted much attention,” Wallace said in a statement. “Ulvan acts as molecular reinforcement in 3D printed scaffolds, a key feature in preventing structure contraction.”
Together with bioinks that create molecular architecture, the researchers at ACES are targeting the fabrication of 3D scaﬀolds for skin tissue culture. This aims to combine bioinks and biomaterials through 3D bioprinting into structures that deliver the desired outcomes of reconstructed skin. Advances in printing engineering have made structural architecture of artiﬁcial skin tissue possible.
“It has been so exciting to begin the journey of unlocking molecules from seaweed and delivering them to new heights in partnership with researchers in biomaterials,” Pia Winberg, co-author said in a statement. “Particularly when the molecules that we have found from a unique species of Australian green seaweed are uncannily similar in structure and function to the molecules that exists in human skin.”