Researchers have turned to seaweed to develop a treatment aimed at helping people with traumatic brain injury.
People have been eating seaweed for decades and now Australian researchers believe the marine algae can be used to help heal damaged brain tissue caused by injury or stroke.
Researchers at RMIT University and the Australian National University have teamed up with Tasmanian biopharmaceutical company Marinova to create a novel treatment for people with traumatic brain injury by tapping into the anti-inflammatory properties of seaweed.
The researchers combined polysaccharide - a naturally occurring sugar molecule found in seaweed - with short peptides (small proteins) to create a "hydrogel scaffold" that prevents scarring and promotes healing.
"The Japanese have long used seaweed for therapeutic purposes and it turns out there is an abundance of similar seaweed in Tasmania," said lead researcher Dr Richard Williams from RMIT University.
Traumatic brain injury causes devastating long-term functional damage as the natural inflammatory response to injury prevents regrowth, which in turn prevents the healing process.
Dr Williams says it's "critical" to find a way to stop this inflammation and that is where the seaweed can be used.
When the specially engineered hydrogel scaffold was injected into a damaged brain, the scarring was significantly reduced "to half that of a stab (control) injury" and new cells had grown by the seventh day, according to a study published in journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.
The findings, also published in journal Nature Scientific Reports, shows that the brain is likely to regrow when injected with the hydrogel, radically modifying how it reacts to injury, said co-author Associate Professor David Nisbet from ANU.
"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," said Ass Prof Nisbet.
The two researchers are now exploring how the treatment can be applied to other technologies, like 3D bio-printed implants, to replace damaged muscle, nerves, and bones.