Australian researchers use seaweed to heal brain tissue

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

Dr Richard Williams from RMIT University and associate professor David Nisbet from the Australian National University (ANU) have created a "hydrogel scaffold" which stops the formation of scar tissue and also 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, Business Insider reported.

"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, in association with Tasmanian biopharmaceutical company Marinova, created a scaffold that matches the structure of healthy brain tissue using a natural anti-inflammatory polysaccharide (sugar molecule) found in seaweed with short peptides (proteins) to create a scaffold that matched 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 formation of scar tissue and the scaffold allows the cells to grow.

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

According to associate professor David Nisbet from ANU, the findings show that the brain is likely to regrow when injected with the hydrogel, radically modifying how it reacts to injury. ''For the first time ever we have shown that we can engineer a tissue construct that allows regrowth in damaged brain tissue, increasing the potential for repair and regeneration,'' reported.

The two researchers are working on the possible application of the technique to other technologies, such as 3D bio-printed implants, to replace damaged muscle, nerves, and bones.