Nature has been an inspiration behind three medical smart materials innovations being developed at the University of Bolton.
The team behind the research is led by Professor of Fibre Science and Technology, Mohsen Miraftab, working alongside the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry.
Smart wound dressings
Closest to market is the alchite wound dressing, plans are already in hand for production to start in China and initially to be marketed in the UK. In tests, alchite is already outperforming market rivals and is estimated to have a turnover of £250 million-plus after the first year.
‘Alchite is a composite fibre, combining alginate, which is drawn from algae, and chitosan, found in crustacean shells. Alginate and chitosan both have a history of being used in medicine. Chitosan is naturally antimicrobial and accelerates wound healing activity, so it does heal and kill bacteria,’ said Prof Miraftab.
Helix-inspired prosthetic grafts
Less than 6mm wide and using a technique developed by Prof Miraftab’s team, nano prosthetic grafts have been developed which could alleviate the blood vessel-blocking problem associated with fine prosthetic vascular grafts.
These grafts would be surgically positioned inside the body to treat a variety of conditions, such as coronary heart disease. Current narrow grafts are prone to calcification and cholesterol build up which eventually closes the fine arteries and could lead to death, but Prof Miraftab’s grafts have a unique structure which is based on the helix, a structure at the centre of life; DNA.
Said Prof Miraftab: ‘As blood flows through the veins it does not move in a straight line of motion; it spirals. By creating a helical structure within the graft we keep the blood moving in its natural path, sweeping the interior of the blood vessel as it moves, hence preventing calcification.’
Tendon injuries are all too common in athletes and are notoriously difficult to heal. Prof Miraftab’s team are working on a tendon healing technique, which can improve the current surgery options for damaged tendons, replacing with a tendon made from collagen textile-like fibres.
The Bolton team has discovered a unique technique to spin collagen fibres, which can be interwoven into the damaged tendon, offering a natural scaffolding support on which cells can grow successfully.
Collagen fibre technology has traditionally lacked the ability to create fibres that can be produced continually and controlled – until now. The University has pioneered a highly specialised technique, which produces a continuous, single fine thread, developing a strong structure with controllable flexibility, and on which cells can flourish.
‘This technology was initially developed through a European funded project and it is currently undergoing production processing optimisations and laboratory trials. We will now be working with targeted companies to explore how we can best exploit its potential,’ said Prof Miraftab.