Australian researchers have found that seaweed can help heal brain tissue

Photo: Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images.

Australian researchers have successfully used the properties of seaweed to develop a way to help heal brain tissue damaged by stroke or trauma.

Dr Richard Williams from RMIT University and Associate Professor David Nisbet from the ANU have created a “hydrogel scaffold” which stops scar tissue forming but promotes healing at the same time.

“Traumatic brain injury results in devastating long-term functional damage as the natural inflammatory response to injury prevents regrowth,” says Williams.

“This stops or prevents the healing process. So it’s critical that you find a natural way to stop the inflammation and scarring, yet encourage healing.”

The researchers, working with Tasmanian biopharmaceutical company Marinova, combined a natural anti-inflammatory polysaccharide (sugar molecule) found in seaweed with short peptides (proteins) to create a scaffold that matches the structure of healthy brain tissue.

“We used fragments of these proteins to form an artificial hydrogel (scaffold) that the body recognises as healthy tissue,” he says. We then decorated this web with the sugars found in the seaweed to create the anti-inflammatory hydrogel system.”

The seaweed stops scar tissue forming and the scaffold lets the cells grow.

“The Japanese have long used seaweed for therapeutic purposes and it turns out there is an abundance of similar seaweed in Tasmania,” says Williams.

The research team injected the hydrogel scaffold into a damaged brain, with remarkable results.

“Incredibly, it had a positive effect on cells a long way from the wound. This potentially allows an entirely natural, biomaterial approach to treat the damage caused by traumatic brain injury and stroke by allowing the brain to repair itself,” Williams says.

The researchers are now exploring how the treatment can be applied to other technologies, such 3D bioprinted implants, to replace damaged muscle, nerves, and bones.

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