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The Art of Making Antibacterial Bioplastics from Egg Whites and Other Foods

Kristopher Sturgis

April 2, 2015

3 Min Read
The Art of Making Antibacterial Bioplastics from Egg Whites and Other Foods

Alternative bioplastic materials derived from foodstuffs could curb hospital infections.

Kristopher Sturgis

Alex Jones

Alex Jones, a doctoral student from UGA, is studying the antibacterial properties of bioplastics.

Three nontraditional bioplastic materials--containing albumin (a common protein found in egg whites), whey, and soy protein respectively--have demonstrated promising antibacterial properties, and could potentially serve as an alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastics currently in use in hospitals around the country.

Researchers at the University of Georgia believe their findings could lead to a safer bioplastic that could be used in various medical applications such as wound dressings, sutures, catheter tubes, and drug delivery devices, according to a news release.

The research team set out to find ways to both reduce the amount of petroleum used in traditional plastic production, and then discovered a material that could be fully biodegradable. So far, the team has found albumin to be the material that demonstrates the most antibacterial power, as it meets both of these standards when blended with a traditional plasticizer such as glycerol. Whey also combined well with glycerol. Both the alubmin-glycerol and whey-protein-glycerol combinations inhibited bacterial growth 24 hours after  inoculation in the study.

CDC estimates that roughly 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections cause or contribute to 99,000 deaths each year. Many of the bacteria involved in those infections can form biofilms on traditional petroleum-based plastics used in hospitals. The new antibacterial plastics could help address that problem as well as address the risk of food contamination when used for food packaging.

When it comes to medical devices, maintaining a bacteria-free surface on any form of treatment from sutures to catheter tubes remains a high priority. Antibacterial surface coatings have been explored for catheter tubes and other similar devices, while medical implants also look toward similar biomedical surface coatings to help fight the war against the formation of bacteria on the surface.

The idea of crafting medical devices from antibacterial materials with strong antibacterial properties, rather than simply coating a device in an antibacterial agent, could potentially reduce the risk of contamination and infection by even greater amounts. The team believes that these risks can be reduced through drug elution--loading the bioplastic with either drugs (for medical device applications) or food preservatives (for, well, foods) that can kill bacteria, and prevent it from spreading.

As for the future, the next step for the study includes a deeper analysis of the albumin-based bioplastic's potential for use in biomedical and food packaging fields. The group even indicated that because albumin is a pure protein, you can put albumin-based plastic materials in a landfill and within one or two month's time, the plastics will completely break down and disappear. Its biodegradable properties offer up yet another lasting benefit of the material as an alternative bioplastic solution.

While the group plans to continue to explore the power of albumin-based bioplastics, their goal remains clear. Maintaining medical care through the use of equipment and devices that are bacteria free will be an ongoing initiative for all those involved in the industry. A fight that may not only be addressed by protective antibacterial coatings, but could also exact results by constructing tools and devices from materials specifically designed to repel, fight, and kill bacteria from the outset.

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at BIOMEDevice Boston, May 6-7, 2015.

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About the Author(s)

Kristopher Sturgis

Kristopher Sturgis is a freelance contributor to MD+DI.

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