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Posted: February 16, 2016

Jeffrey Catchmark's work to replace Styrofoam led to a new, bio-absorbable medical foam on its way to market
Jingxuan Yang, Visiting Scholar from Donghua University (left) and Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering (right) work in the lab on a new, patent-pending bio-absorbable medical foam. (Photo by Martha Schupp)

Jingxuan Yang, Visiting Scholar from Donghua University (left) and Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering (right) work in the lab on a new, patent-pending bio-absorbable medical foam. (Photo by Martha Schupp)

By Martha Schupp

Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is working to commercialize a patent-pending biofoam pad for wound and trauma care.

The material is bioabsorbable, soft and resilient, unique properties useful in treating wounds in surgical, military, veterinary and other settings.

It absorbs blood and body fluids, expands to put pressure on a wound, conforms to the wound’s shape and doesn’t stick to tissue, says Catchmark. Once applied, the foam’s surface transitions to a gel that promotes healing, and can be left inside the body. The foam can be placed within traumatic wounds like gunshots, shrapnel cuts, and other deep wounds to stop bleeding and stabilize the area until the patient can be taken to a medical facility. 

Catchmark won $5,000 from TechCelerator@StateCollege in late 2015 to help take the product to market following the Ten-Week Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs.

He and co-principal investigator Scott Armen, Chief, Division of Trauma, Acute Care, & Critical Care Surgery at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine also won $75,000 toward commercializing the foam. The College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Medicine jointly funded the award, under the Research Applications for Innovation (RAIN) grant program.

Through its Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program, the college awards grants to help researchers commercialize their discoveries and be successful in the marketplace.

“The RAIN Grant is attempting to help faculty cross the valley of death, to get closer to that commercial reality so that someone could adopt it,” says Catchmark.

Initially, says Catchmark, he set out to replace Styrofoam and the plastic films used on disposable paper containers in the foodservice industry that sends these products to the landfill and prevents them from being recycled or composted.

He wanted to use a biodegradable material, so took a fresh look at materials like cellulose, starch, and chitosan. Catchmark combined starch from potatoes and chitosan from shellfish to create the unique foam.  

Though a sustainable replacement for Styrofoam is needed, the market for it isn’t friendly, says Catchmark, and sustainable materials can be cost-prohibitive to make initially.

“I started thinking ‘What are foams used for today that represent the highest of value?’ and that’s where you end up in the medical arena,” says Catchmark.

There is a growing interest in bio-medical foams. Other high-value natural foams are made of collagen and gelatin.

“I went and talked to some people at the (Penn State) Hershey Medical Center and showed them this foam, and asked ‘Are there any applications for this that you could think of?’ ” says Catchmark “And their response was, ‘Absolutely, you may have a new wound care product!!’”

When Catchmark spoke with Armen, he learned the material had medical applications and the two began to look toward commercialization.

“This foam holds great potential for application in trauma care,” says Armen, “both in the civilian and military sectors. It’s unique in the fact that it can expand to conform to irregular wounds while also impregnated with hemostatic agent.”

Now, the foam is being tested on cadavers at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Catchmark hopes to produce a go-to pack of the foam in a variety of shapes to instantly treat any number of wounds. The pack could then be easily carried and used in the field by emergency responders and military medics.

“It started off as a Styrofoam replacement, but now it’s medical material. This is the beauty of biological materials. Biological materials can be used for lots of different applications,” says Catchmark.