Bangladeshi scientist develops surgical thread from dairy by-product

http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=181159

Milk magician
Bangladeshi scientist develops surgical thread from dairy by-product; trials show it doubly efficient

Dr Azam Ali

Reaz Ahmad

A Bangladeshi scientist has developed a fibre from milk protein as medical suture for repairing damaged tissues, cut vessels and surgical incisions in a biodegradable way.

The suture that combines a polymer with an easy to extract dairy by-product is more biocompatible than others available now, and hold the potential of minimising the use of drugs by patients.

And clinical trials on animals have already shown the fibre can help heal wound in almost half the time conventional suture materials do.

The man behind the breakthrough, biomaterials scientist Dr Azam Ali, disclosed this to The Daily Star in an exclusive e-mail interview from Christchurch, New Zealand.

“A patent has been filed. Soon it (the suture) will go on a human clinical trial and, if everything else goes smoothly, be available commercially within three years,” says Azam, who heads biomaterials and nanotechnology research team at Lincoln Research Centre of AgResearch, New Zealand’s premier seat of frontier research.

Dr Azam, who won the Bayer Innovator of the Year 2010 award for his invention of quick wound healer bio-based dressing (using wool protein), says since dairy protein is easily accessible, the end product will be relatively inexpensive.

He blends together biomaterial from dairy-milk protein and absorbable polymer made from a plant to develop fibre as a medical suture for stitching wounds. It is developed in a way to be biologically degradable and safely absorbed in the tissue so that the surgical seams need not be removed.

The dairy protein is from whey, a liquid by-product from the process of making cheese or casein. The polymer provides the mechanical strength to close a wound and the dairy protein the faster healing qualities and other functions.

“The milk protein provides the biological character and reduces inflammation of the area and coagulates the blood. It creates a thin layer called granulation tissue and then subsequently epithelialises to make a new skin tissue. Conventional sutures do not have such bioactive molecules to play the role for fast healing,” explains Azam.

Azam says they are looking at the next step of developing dairy protein into soft skin tissue for skin grafts, and is in talks with giant companies such as dairy cooperative Fonterra about opportunities.

“In the meantime, I have invented two bone grafts medical implant technologies for the regeneration of defective or lost bone via implantation surgical procedures. So, no longer we require any stainless steel or titanium metallic implant. More importantly the newly developed implants will be ultimately absorbed by bone tissue and subsequently generate a new bone onto it. There is no need to go to hospital to remove it, as required in case of other metallic alternatives,” says the Bangladeshi researcher.

Four international patents were filed for the development of this bone graft implant technology, reveals Azam. He holds six patents related to nanotechnology and wound dressing biomaterials, and 12 others in his other research areas which include bone graft implants, dairy protein biomaterials, shrimp or crab shells biomaterials and palm oil based bio-resins.

He mentioned that the two bone graft implants are at clinical study stage now.

The 44-year-old biomaterials scientist aims at making many of today’s synthetic medical accessories redundant in his lifetime by replacing those with bio-based regenerative medicines (fibres?).

The bio-based dressing that he invented by using wool protein is widely in use in New Zealand, and the product also got approval from the regulatory authorities in the USA, the EU and Australia.

Getting an offer for a position of scientist at AgResearch seven years back, Azam took the challenge to see if high-value medical products could be made from wool protein, widely available in New Zealand.

And he led a team to develop new medical technologies, some still in their infancies, but some so advanced that it leads the world.

US researchers are working towards producing medical products from hair and nail protein, and in Australia wool materials are being used, but the research of Azam’s team is more advanced with patents already protecting the work.

Azam says, “The bio-based dressings are highly effective for healing chronic wound within 2-3 weeks. More importantly, the dressings are fully absorbed by body tissue during the progression of healing and regenerating new skin tissue.”

Azam, who had his schooling in Dinajpur and had his master’s degree in chemistry from Jahangirnagar University, says he always keeps in mind the potential of his research pursuits in benefiting people back home in Bangladesh.

“I think there are lots of potential bio-based materials unutilised or not adequately utilised (shrimp shell, silk etc.) in Bangladesh,”he says.

He intends to develop a type of medical technology or biopharma products (such as bio-based dressing, bone graft implant or other medical technology) by utilising local bio-based materials like shrimp shells, silk etc.

A Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company recently expressed interest in collaboration in this regard, and discussions are in progress, he said without giving details.

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