December 01 2014
From plant to pharmacy – Tech researchers create new medicinal use for cotton
By JOSIE MUSICO
If it looks to you like plastic film, its base product might surprise you.
Meet Texas Tech's future biodegradable bandage.
When the cotton-based product is available for widespread use — which its creators admit might not be for some time — it can be applied with medicinal ointment to a wound site. Unlike traditional bandages, it need not be removed later.
"The beauty of this approach is it's 100 percent biodegradable," said Noreddine Abidi, a Tech plant and soil sciences associate professor.
Abidi directs the project at Texas Tech's Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute. Located away from the main campus just east of Lubbock amid acres of cotton fields, the common component in his research didn't have to travel far to the lab.
Yang Hu, a post-doctoral research assistant, is enthusiastic about the thin film's potential to help promote healing at wound sites as it protects them from the elements.
"The micropattern can guide the cell growth and distribution to get good healing and try to reduce the scar formation," he said.
To create the film-like product, Abidi and his research team alter the cotton composition. The process can be described through a series of stages.
The first involves grinding raw cotton into a powder known as microcrystalline cellulose. This part is nothing new — the flour-like substance can also be used as a bulking agent in pharmaceutical and food products.
Abidi and his research team then solubilize the powder by adding a chemical. The product at that stage — which resembles cloudy water but holds a thicker viscosity — can be molded into new shapes with new uses.
"You can mold it into any form depending on use," Abidi said.
At the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute, you'll find it molded into small aerogel pieces the size and texture of ear plugs, and into the thin film.
Abidi, Hu and their fellow researchers anticipate the day the product will be sold at neighborhood pharmacies, but they're quick to note it won't be tomorrow. They plan to study it further, and eventually collaborate with folks at Tech's Health Sciences Center for biomedical testing.
"It's a long way, but we're on the right track," Abidi said.
A bonus is that cotton in the project doesn't have to meet the same standards as that used for textiles. Cotton with fibers too short to spin could be considered a waste product at the mill, but would still have a home in Abidi's lab.
"We don't really care about the quality of the cotton compared to spinning. Any cotton can do it," he said.
Source: Lubbock Online