A review of recent research found that an unexpected mixture could do wonders for bone regeneration and wound healing.

This little guy could hold the future medical grafts within his shell. Image in Public Domain.

Chitosan is a type of sugar derived from shrimp and crab shell waste. It’s quite an amazing substance, used for its biocompatible, biodegradable, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic and hemostatic (stops bleeding) properties. There are a number of potential applications which have researchers excited, but this review focuses on one thing in particular: medicine.

In a paper published in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials, Duarte Moura from the Minho University in Braga, Portugal, found that combing chitosan with “nanofillers” makes the resulting material much stronger, without taking any medicinal properties away. They also found some success in combining bioactive glass nanoparticles with chitosan to develop synthetic bone grafts. Bioactive glass is a glass-ceramic biomaterial that binds well to physiological structures such as bone. Bone cells were found to grow relatively quickly and cover grafts made of bioactive glass and chitosan. Adding silver nanoparticles as nanofillers also gives the wound dressings antibacterial properties.

Graphene also came into the mix. In combination with chitosan, researchers can develop “nanocarriers” that can deliver drugs to target tissues, avoiding the negative side effects that conventional drugs can have on other tissues of the body.

Of course, this is pretty much the state of the art at the moment and a lot of research is still required. In particular, researchers still don’t fully understand how these composite materials degrade, which is particularly significant for medical applications. Also, more research is needed to understand how these composite materials interact with host tissues in the body and whether these materials can be sterilized using conventional methods. If this is not the case, then implementing them to medical treatment becomes much more complicated. But this is, without a doubt, an exciting field of research and one that holds great promise for the future.

“The vast opportunities shown by these materials, allied with their incredible nanotechnology potential, is expected to revolutionize the biomedical field in the near future,” the researchers conclude.

Journal Reference: Duarte Moura(*), Joao Mano, Conceicao Paiva, Natalia Alves — “Chitosan nanocomposites based on distinct inorganic fillers for biomedical applications”, Science and Technology of Advanced Materials Vol. 17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14686996.2016.1229104
http://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14686996.2016.1229104

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