Scientists develop degradable plastics for medical applications

Scientists at the National University of San Martín (UNSAM) and Conicet develop bioplastics for medical applications that are degraded and reabsorbed by the body without causing adverse effects. In turn, they can be used in the same way as conventional plastics in suture threads, in tissue regeneration or in the production of particles so that drugs are targeted to the specific place where they must take effect. Its production could replace traditional materials and favor the fight against climate change.

This is how he explains Diana Nygaard, biotechnologist and PhD in Applied Sciences and Engineering from UNSAM: “Within biopolymers (molecules produced by living beings with characteristics similar to conventional plastics) there is a group called ‘Polyhydroxyalkanoates’. When we extract them, we obtain a very flexible plastic that can be used in several industries. The advantage it presents is that it is biodegradable and reabsorbable. by the same organism that created it, without adverse effects”.

Upon entering the body, this type of plastic breaks down and turns into small molecules that are absorbed. If the organism rejects them, it does so without causing any kind of complication.

Unlike other materials, plastic does not degrade and does not accumulate in the environment when discarded.. The consequences are well known: they deteriorate the soil, suffocate marine fauna, poison groundwater, pollute the air, contribute to climate change and affect human health. According to the United Nations Environment Program, humanity produces more than 430 million tons of plastic per year, of which 65% are short-lived, that is, they quickly turn into garbage and end up in garbage, seas , oceans or landfills.

bacteria like factories

That these plastics are biodegradable, reabsorbable and fulfill the same functions as conventional ones, makes the demand grow more and more all over the world. In this regard, Nygaard adds: “Another property they have is that cells adhere well to these plastics. So, if the objective is to regenerate tissues, we can use them as a kind of matrix or soil where cells can proliferate, grow and degrade these materials. All this makes them more and more attractive because they are specific.”

Within the Laboratory of Biomaterials, Biomechanics and Bioinstrumentation belonging to the Institute of Emerging Technologies and Applied Sciences (UNSAM-Conicet), the scientist produces these degradable plastics from two bacteria, one commercial and one that was isolated by the research team in the Reconquista River.

We cause bacteria to grow, reproduce and store that plastic. In addition, we vary the cultivation conditions so that they produce materials with greater or lesser degradation, depending on the desired application.”, details Nygaard. And he continues: “Later, other areas of the Laboratory process the plastics and identify their mechanical properties to account for which type of medical or pharmaceutical application will be made. It is very important when removing the plastic from the bacteria that all remains are cleaned so as not to cause complications”.

added value

The Laboratory’s intention is to generate this type of plastic on a large scale to maintain production over time and expand the scientific and medicinal capabilities of the country and the region. In this frame, the bacteria isolated by the research group gains importance since, “if production scales and can be transferred, it would not be necessary to pay royalties”, emphasizes the scientist.

for your part, Elida Hermidadirector of the Laboratory and professor at UNSAM, emphasizes: “The goal is to replace imports and generate high value-added products that can also be exported.. Doing this work at the Public University makes us follow the developments that are happening internationally, because regenerative medicine and tissue engineering are here to stay”.

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