When a successful Czech biotechnology company teams up with top scientists from the University of Pardubice, big things happen. The collaboration of two scientists, Professor Radim Hrdina and Associate Professor Ladislav Burgert of the Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice, and Contipro, gave birth to unique hyaluronic acid wound dressings. The material is currently being tested, offering very promising applications and uses in the pharmaceutical industry.
Years ago, at the request of Associate Professor Vladimír Velebný, the director of Contipro, the world's leading producer and researcher of hyaluronic acid, two Pardubice scientists - Professor Ing. Radim Hrdina, CSc., and Associate Professor Ing. Ladislav Burgert, CSc., of two departments of the Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice, began working together on a completely new project.
"Hyaluronic acid is a bio-polymer that is a natural component of the skin and serves as a carrier in addition to other functions. At the beginning of our collaboration, Associate Professor Velebný came up with the idea of using this ability to transfer biologically active compounds to the skin or the body. And so we started thinking about how to create hyaluronic acid fibres," describes the beginning of cooperation prof. Ing. Radim Hrdina, CSc., of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice. "We had been dealing with dyes for a long time and we'd had a lot of experience with the affinity of compounds to fibres, polysaccharides and proteins, so we focused on the affinity of compounds for hyaluronic acid. My colleague Burgert created an input hypothesis that it is a linear molecule very similar to cellulose, so it should be possible to create a fibre from it. So we started working together on a brand new hyaluronic acid spinning project."
And after seven years, Pardubice chemists have made a breakthrough and come up with two major outputs - they can create an endless fibre and staple microfibers of hyaluronic acid! To do so, they do not form admixtures of hyaluronic acid, but they chose a non-traditional solution in the form of a suitable morphology of microfibers. And they are the only ones to have succeeded in doing this. The result is unique wound dressings. The staple fibre-based material, which looks very promising, is currently being tested at Contipro.
"We based our work on technologies that had long been known in the textile industry - wet spinning and drawing of fibres. But we developed a new technological process and ways to use them. In the resulting procedure, the hyaluronic acid polymer initially enters the wet spinning process during which it first dissolves in the water bath and then precipitates in the anti-solvent to form a fibre," describes the spinning process prof. Ing. Radim Hrdina, CSc., of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice.
But for the two Pardubice scientists to arrive at this result, they had to invent a bunch of complementary scientific tricks. For example, that it is simply not possible without an incubating bath. Without it, they unable to get the proper fibre structure that is absolutely essential for the downstream drawing process, during which the fibre gets the right morphology, becomes firm and flexible. It turned out that these mechanical operations played a huge role and that their definition was our main task and benefit.
"Our colleague, Associate Professor Burgert of the Department of Synthetic Polymers, Fibres, and Textile Chemistry of the Institute of Chemistry and Technology of Macromolecular Materials, thought that instead of classical textiles we could make non-woven textiles produced by pressing, just as paper is, which could be made from short staple microfibers. So he made a machine to produce them. Moulding and subsequent drying resulted in a nonwoven fabric. When we then put it under the microscope, we found out that we created a very good, flexible and firm microfiber," adds Professor Hrdina.
Later, scientists found out that all of these processes must have specific conditions, otherwise it is not possible to create a good result. Fine-tuning of the technological procedures allowed us to prepare sheets of very strong and flexible hyaluronic paper, weighing 5 g/m2, being thus ideal for the use in health care. When the process is performed mechanically correctly, we are able to get up to nanofibres. The main benefit of this material is that it uses the ability of hyaluronic acid to transfer biologically active compounds to the skin or the body. This results in faster wound healing. And, moreover, it is done without admixtures and without the need for electrospinning. The company Contipro in Dolní Dobrouč turned their original prototype into a pilot machine that has the dimensions of the office table.
The so-formed, very promising material made from staple fibres is subjected to further testing and its suitable and possible applications are sought. The next phase of clinical testing assumes the production of products under the GMP, Good Manufacture Practice, which is not easy with a technology that has not yet been implemented. And so the collaboration of the University department with the company that wants to bring the new product to life, i.e. produce it for the needs of the pharmaceutical industry, continues.
The interview with the two scientists of the Faculty of Chemical Technology, University of Pardubice, and the director of Contipro about their successful cooperation can be found in the e-Newsletter of the University of Pardubice