Healing Wounds with Seaweed Bioinks

Dr. Pia Winberg and Gordon Wallace

Venus Shell Systems Founder and Director Dr. Pia Winberg with ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace.

by Sam Findlay

Scientists from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterial Science (ACES) and University of Wollongong (UOW), in partnership with their seaweed bioinks collaborators Venus Shell Systems, have discovered that a molecular species known as ulvan aids wound healing in humans.

Their research paper is the cover story on the latest issue of Biomaterials Science. Titled “3D bioprinting dermal-like structures using species-specific ulvan,” the new findings outline how ulvan contained in green seaweed can play a key role in wound healing — because its structure closely resembles the biomolecules found in humans.

The team behind the paper from ACES and UOW includes Director Prof Gordon Wallace and researchers A/Prof Stephen Berine, Dr Zhilian Yue and Xifang Chen, in collaboration with Venus Shell System’s Dr. Pia Winberg and stem cell biologist Prof Yan-Ru Lou from Fundan University.

“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,” said Prof Wallace. “Here we have formulated a bioink for 3D bioprinting, containing ulvan and discovered that its presence assists in the proliferation of cells involved in wound healing.”

The team’s findings showed that ulvan also regulates the function of cells when producing key biomolecules used for healing, a positive step forward for the research. “Ulvan acts as molecular reinforcement in 3D printed scaffolds, a key feature in preventing structure contraction, and hence minimizes scarring,” said Prof Wallace.

ACES researchers have been collaborating with Dr. Winberg and Venus Shell Systems for many years to meet clinical challenges. “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,” said Dr. Winberg.

“The molecules 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. It will be exciting when this translates into improving the health outcomes for patients,” she said.

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