Revealed: How bioactive seaweed offers new hope to brain injury patients

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Aussie scientists have developed a treatment for brain injuries using Tasmanian seaweed. ©iStock
Aussie scientists have developed a treatment for brain injuries using Tasmanian seaweed. ©iStock
Australian researchers have developed a seaweed-based treatment for damaged brain tissue, which has been shown to support the wound, prevent scarring, and improve healing.

RMIT University's Dr Richard Williams and Australian National University's Associate Professor David Nisbet have created a 'hydrogel scaffold', which is mostly water and contains healthy cells, with proteins forming a web.

This renews hope for brain injury and damaged tissue treatment, as inflammation prevents the brain from properly repairing itself.

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

"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."

Marine solution

This led to Williams' and Nisbet's novel use of seaweed.

Working with Marinova — an Australian biotechnology company focused on the development and production of high-purity seaweed extracts — they combined a natural anti-inflammatory polysaccharide present in seaweed with short peptides to develop the hydrogel scaffold, which mimics the structure of healthy brain tissue.

Williams revealed: "We used fragments of these proteins to form an artificial hydrogel that the body recognises as healthy tissue.

"We then decorated this web with the sugars found in the seaweed to create the anti-inflammatory hydrogel system. The seaweed stops the scar 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."

Beneficial breakthrough

The hydrogel scaffold was then injected into a damaged brain, and according to Williams, "was shown to support the wound, prevent scarring and improve healing".

"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."

This suggests the brain will likely regrow when injected with the hydrogel, significantly changing its reaction to injury.

Nisbet said, "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."

At RMIT, Williams and Nisbet are now looking into how the treatment can be applied to other technologies, such as 3D bio-printed implants, to replace damaged bones, muscles and nerves.

"As it turns out, controlling the inflammation associated with surgery is vital to improve healing. The hydrogel can change how the body reacts to these implants, meaning it is much less likely to reject them," said Williams.

Paper support

Both studies were recently published in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering​ and Nature Scientific Reports​.

The former concluded that this treatment had the "potential to provide the necessary biological, mechanical, and material properties to be used as a platform from which to develop more sophisticated constructs with temporal influence over the astrocytic response after injury"​.

The latter said the "facile production of nanostructured, multicomponent biomedical materials, in particular for the incorporation and presentation of other biologically functional macromolecules"​.

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