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Bacterial Cellulose
October 29, 2010   
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A team of scientists from the Technical University of £ód¼, headed by Prof. Stanis³aw Bielecki, is working on a technology to make cellulose with the help of the Gluconacetobacter xylinus acetic fermentation bacteria. Dressings made from this material can be used to treat first- and second-degree burns, bedsores, trophic wounds and non-healing wounds in diabetic patients.

In stationary cultures, these bacteria produce a jelly-like nanocellulose membrane on the surface of the liquid medium, also called bionanocellulose. After cleaning, these strongly hydrated membranes, which look like swollen skin, are a ready-to-use dressing.
“Bacterial cellulose is an ideal product meeting all modern-day requirements for hydrogel materials,” says Bielecki, who is the rector of the Technical University of £ód¼ as well as a researcher. It is biocompatible, sterile, porous, flexible, reduces pain and protects the skin from secondary infection. It protects patients against infection and loss of body fluids. It is a kind of “water jacket” allowing the wounds it covers to grow a new epidermis without scabbing and hypertrophic scarring.

Gluconacetobacter xylinus

The £ód¼ team is using an efficient, genetically unmodified strain of Gluconacetobacter xylinus E25. The researchers are studying it at the molecular level to learn more about its possibilities and increase its efficiency. The cellulose nanofibers produced by this strain of bacteria become entangled on the surface of the culture medium. The medium—glucose with additives—is inexpensive (at zl.1.34 per liter) and can be used several times over. The size of the membranes forming on the surface depends on the surface of the bioreactor where the biosynthesis process takes place. The result are sheets of bionanocellulose that have to be thoroughly cleaned from bits of the medium and residual bacteria. Cleaning involves washing the membranes several times under pressure, in a specially designed washer, and squeezing them. The final stage involves formatting, packing and sterilizing.

The Polish bionanocellulose is a product of high purity, non-toxic, flexible, biocompatible, and mechanically resistant. Production is cheap, based on biodegradable raw materials and therefore environmentally friendly.

CelMat bionanocellulose dressings from Poland are a registered commercial product. They are also unrivaled in terms of price. A similar dressing made by a foreign company costs about zl.150; the cost of a dressing from £ód¼ is zl.10-zl.25. Standard treatment takes an average of two to three weeks.

Protective jackets

As part of a government project, the team is concluding its work on a preventive dressing, or large sheets of bacterial cellulose for use as “protective jackets” for miners and emergency service workers such as firefighters and soldiers, to protect them from burns in case of fire.

Bionanocellulose dressings form a protective layer (containing 98 percent of water) preventing the loss of body fluids outside the kidneys. Bacterial cellulose is an absorbent material that swells and can be squeezed. The scientists predict that the protective sheets for miners could be 2-5 mm thick. The temperature range in which they can be used is +5 to +28 degrees Celsius.

The CalMat(R) C and CelMat(R) MG bacterial nanocellulose dressings are made at the Technical University of £ód¼’s Institute of Technical Biochemistry. Only 300-400 dressings can be made there per month. The team, composed mainly of academic teachers, is too small to launch mass-scale production. Bacterial cellulose can also be used in the form of meshes (CelMat M) for treating abdominal hernias in both open and laparoscopic surgery. These meshes are biocompatible, grow over with tissue and blood vessels and do not cause inflammatory reactions. Another application involves tubes (CelMat T) that can be used as replacements for small-diameter blood vessels and for connecting damaged nerve bundles which then regenerate much better. In reconstructive surgery, the material can be used in the form of cartilage (CelMat AC), for example as a nasal septum, an auricle, an artificial trachea or even an intervertebral disk in the spine. Sheets of varying thickness can replace missing segments of soft tissue, for example in breast reconstruction or as a carrier for receiving immobilized biocatalysts (an enzyme is deposited on the cellulose surface to catalyze a biochemical reaction).

Two years ago the team from £ód¼ started a collaboration with the conservation unit of the Nicolas Copernicus University in Toruń. Together, they are working on a new adhesive for restoring early printed books. This glue will replace missing parts of an old book or photograph. They also want to develop a nanocellulose sol—a suspension of colloidal particles in a liquid or gas—for fixing the pages of early printed books by dusting.

Bacterial cellulose has won numerous awards at national and international exhibitions of inventions, including a gold medal at the 56th Brussels-Eureka Contest for inventions in Brussels in 2007 and a gold medal at the ITEX 2008 19th International Invention, Innovation, Industrial Design and Technology Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Prof. Bielecki is a specialist in industrial biochemistry and biotechnology and has more than 200 experimental projects, 28 patents and patent applications to his credit. He has lectured in Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and China. He is a member of many international scientific organizations, including the European Federation of Biotechnology. Before he took over as rector of the Technical University of £ód¼, he was a member of the federation’s board and chaired the Biotechnology Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He helped launch and coordinated the work of the Polish Technology Platform for Biotechnology. He also co-founded the Polish Federation of Biotechnology and coordinated the work of the BioTechMed Advanced Technology Center. During the 58th Brussels Innova international exhibition of inventions in 2009, the Highest Commission of Awards of Belgium granted Bielecki the Commander’s Cross of the European Innovation Award for his inventions and innovativeness.

Danuta K. Gruszczyńska
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