Building a Better Bandage

Pulling off a bandage usually hurts, and it doesn’t do a healing wound any favors as it takes new flesh along for the ride. But a new bandage developed by a Penn State researcher may help more than hurt. Microbial cellulose that is absorbed into the body and aids in healing is key to the new bandage developed by Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Traditional bandages are made from cotton gauze, a form of cellulose. Catchmark Bandage made from microbial cellulose (photo by Tom Laird)devised a way to combine a nanofiber type of cellulose produced by microbes called Acetobacter xylinum with a cellulose-degrading enzyme that breaks down the bandage over time. “The bio-absorbable material degrades into glucose,” explains Catchmark.

“The glucose just becomes a part of the sugars in the bloodstream.”

The trickiest part was figuring out how to incorporate enzymes into the cellulose material. If that’s done when the material is wet, the enzymes become active and the material breaks down into a sugar solution before it can be used. Catchmark figured out how to freeze-dry the microbial cellulose and arrest the conversion. When the bandage is needed, sterile water reactivates it before it’s applied to the patient.

The bandage brainstorming began in 2007, when Catchmark, co-director of the University’s Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation, suggested a promising new approach for “bioresorbable” materials during a talk he gave at an industry crossover event at Penn State attended by Bayer Innovation officials. Bayer, looking for such materials for wound-care products, partnered with Catchmark and the college to engineer the new bandage, now in line to be patented and manufactured.