Starch technique could lead to dissolvable bandages

Scientists in the US claim a new technique could lead to dissolvable bandages and produce more environmentally friendly paper.

The process developed at Penn State University spins starch into fine strands that could be combined into biodegradable medical dressings that would not need to be removed from wounds — a process that can cause pain and discomfort to the patient.

‘Starch is easily biodegradable, so bandages made from it would, over time, be absorbed by the body. So, you wouldn’t have to remove them,’ said Lingyan Kong, a food science graduate student and one of the researchers behind the technique. ‘Starch is the most abundant and also the least expensive of all natural polymers.’

Kong used a solvent to dissolve the starch into a fluid that can then be spun into long strands or fibres and combined to make cheap, biodegradable toilet paper, napkins and other paper products.

The researchers claim that once the process is scaled to industrial size, companies could make bandages and other medical dressings using starch fibres that would degrade into glucose, a substance the body safely absorbs.

Starch, typically found in corn and potatoes, is a polymer made of amylose and amylopectin. Typically, it does not completely dissolve in water but instead becomes a gel — or starch paste — that is too thick to make fibres. To solve the problem, the researchers added a solvent to help the solution dissolve the starch but not destroy its molecular structure.

The researchers then used an electrospinning device that, in addition to the solvent, helped stretch the starch solution into fibres. The device uses a high-voltage electrical charge to create a charge repulsion to overcome surface tension, which stretches the droplets of starch into long strands.

The researchers have filed a provisional patent for this work, which was supported by the US Department of Agriculture.