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IIT Guwahati develops biodegradable bandages that cost half the regular ones

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology – Guwahati have invented Hydrogel Composite Films, biodegradable bandages that are low-cost, transparent, natural and safe. This invention promises to change the face of the global medical devices industry.

IIT Guwahati develops biodegradable bandages that cost half the regular ones
Polymer-based hydrogel composite film is based on the integration of a synthetic polymer, polyvinyl alcohol, with a natural polymer, starch

Annually, approximately 1.7 billion units of first aid tape/ bandage products are sold. However, they are not fully sustainable for the environment. A lot of them do not even fully degrade in soil, and some have thin linings of plastic. These materials also have the disadvantage of painful removal exercises that can even damage a healed tissue. Moreover, their opaque nature becomes a critical issue for sensitive wound applications that demand visualization-based analysis and treatment procedures.

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Polymer-based hydrogel as a wound dressing material

Researchers from the IIT – Guwahati have invented Hydrogel Composite Films that are low-cost, transparent, eco-friendly, natural and safe. This invention promises to change the face of the global medical devices industry.  Aritra Das, a PhD student of the Chemical engineering department of IIT Guwahati, received immense support from her professors – Prof. Ramagopal Uppaluri and Prof. Chandan Das – and her collaborator Srirupa Bhattacharyya throughout this project. The findings of their research are published in a global peer-reviewed journal called the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.   

Polymer-based hydrogel composite film is based on the integration of a synthetic polymer, polyvinyl alcohol, with a natural polymer, starch. The two are used as base polymers. The polymeric network is further modified with organic additives such as glycerol and citric acid. These serve as crosslinkers, plasticizers and antibacterial agents in due course of the film performance. The researchers used a solution casting method. It is a highly inexpensive fabrication method that can be adopted in small scale processing schemes.

The film is non-toxic and creates a moist environment for the body to heal on its own through the endogenous enzymes. The material comes with some striking features that make it different from the usual wound dressing material. While it is pocket-friendly, the researchers have made the material biocompatible and biodegradable. According to the laboratory-scale development, it is found to be at least 50% economical than similar commercial materials. The transparency of the material allows one to observe the wound periodically and heal it.

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How does the composite film heal wounds naturally?

While the film has mechanical characteristics to provide existence under a heavy flow of exudates, it can also adjust the shape of the wound to prevent scar formation while healing. Usually, the dressing material loses its occlusivity to bacteria after being swollen due to the heavy flow of exudates. But this material leach a few of its components.

After applying and placing the film over the wound, the film structure with adequate mechanical strength. The elongation characteristics facilitate the product to take any shape or curvature. Aritra elaborates, “After coming in contact with the wound exudate fluids, the composite film swells and softens. Consequently, the surface achieves a gel-like structure and thereby, leeches its constituents to reach the surface. This facilitates a localised antibacterial effect under a hydrolytic environment.” The protection barrier ensured through the leached constituents accelerate the cellular and tissue growth in the wound region.

Striking Features of Hydrogel Film

The hydrogel composite film is super absorbent, preventing wound exudate accumulation on the wound’s surface. This helps against the maceration of the newly generated tissue. Additionally, the hydrogel film has a wear time of 3-7 days. It is due to the wound depth and oozing of the wound fluid. The cost of laboratory scale-based composite hydrogel film is about 66 per cent inexpensive in comparison with similar commercial materials. The effectively designed novel materials such as hydrogel film provide the necessary hope to address numerous issues. These include biodegradability of synthetic polymers based materials, cost of raw materials and processes, utilization of expensive natural polymers to achieve functional materials, the biocompatibility of developed products, etc.

How it all started and the way forward.

Through trials and errors, the team developed a successful product. The main aim in the initial days was to create a material that is eco-friendly and pocket-friendly. Aritra chipped in, “The research was conducted in an experimental research environment that needs further studies towards scale-up.” They are yet to conduct the pilot test. The team is all set to analyse the real-world applications of the composite film. The researchers are planning to collaborate with industries in the future. To date, no private players have approached all of them. However, there are plans for tie-ups after any private players agree to fund the product development on a commercial scale.

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