Researchers develop an innovative airgel for medical use

A team of researchers from the University of Coimbra (UC) has developed a new airgel from natural polymers, for medical and pharmaceutical use, particularly in regenerative medicine. The study was published in the journal Chemistry and physics of materials and has been developed over the past four years at the Research Center for Chemical Process Engineering and Forest Products (CIEPQPF – Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra) within the framework of the “SterilAerogel”, with funding of 230,000 euros from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, writes the Uc in a Press release.

Tackling an urgent problem

According to the project coordinator, Mara Braga, the main objective of “SterilAerogel” is to respond to a health problem “that increasingly affects the world’s population, especially the elderly – bone fractures and degenerative and diseases – by developing innovative aerogels based on natural polymers, ready to be used in tissue regeneration, as well as in dressings to treat wounds”.

The major innovation of the project lies in the “technique of transformation of the natural polymer. Biopolymers are characterized by high biocompatibility for use in living organisms, but they require a rigorous sterilization process, ensuring that the physicochemical and structural properties are not lost, i.e. they do not degrade not during the sterilization process,” explains the FCTUC researcher.

“By using supercritical fluid technology for the preparation and sterilization of the airgel, we ensure biocompatibility by interacting with the body without causing major side effects compared to the synthetic and organic solvent residues of its processing”, adds Braga.

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To verify the effectiveness of the technology, several tests were carried out, with the collaboration of the UC Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC).

In order for this new all-natural, chemical-free airgel to be used in healthcare, further studies are still needed, especially to scale up experiments and determine the shelf life of the final product, because, as it is a natural polymer, its durability is shorter than that of synthetic polymers, “we want to know if, after sterilization, the airgel guarantees a shelf life of six months, which is the standard duration for this type of product” , explains Mara Braga.

Although the project focused on healthcare, the new airgel has potential for other applications, for example as adsorbents for wastewater treatment. The scientific article is available here.

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