Sugar byproducts hold promise in tissue engineering

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aita and kanitkar
Akanksha Kanitkar, left, an LSU engineering science graduate student, and Giovanna Aita, an LSU AgCenter associate professor, are studying how to use sugar industry byproducts to create biodegradable scaffolds for use in tissue engineering. The study is being conducted at the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute in St. Gabriel. (Photo by A. Denise Attaway)

News Release Distributed 05/12/14

ST. GABRIEL, La. – By using byproducts of the sugar industry, an LSU engineering science graduate student is working to provide biodegradable scaffolds for use in tissue engineering.

Akanksha Kanitkar, a graduate assistant studying under Giovanna Aita at the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute, has created skin and bone tissue scaffolds from aconitic acid, cinnamic acid and glycerol – all byproducts of sugarcane processing – as part of her dissertation studies.

Scaffolds are structures scientists use to create new tissues.

In addition to working in Aita’s renewable fuels and byproducts laboratory, Kanitkar also worked with Daniel Hayes in the LSU AgCenter Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

“We first extract the acids – aconitic acid from the molasses and cinnamic acid from pretreated biomass,” Kanitkar said. “Then, we synthesize polymers of different compositions. We are looking for polymers that are safe to use, are non-toxic and also are biodegradable. Once we determine the appropriate polymers to use, we can use them as scaffolds for a specific application.”

Polymers can be natural or synthetic materials. The polymers used in tissue engineering should be biodegradable among other important characteristics.

The idea is to find polymers that will gradually degrade, Kanitkar said. These biodegradable polymers are then used to create scaffolds that can be inoculated with stem cells to grow bone, organs and skin tissues.

The degradation rate is important.

“We need polymers that will gradually degrade so that stem cells will grow and create skin or bones,” Kanitkar said, adding that the composition of the polymer had to be changed to find one favorable for stem cell growth.

For skin tissue engineering, Kanitkar added a growth factor to the cell culture medium and analyzed its effect on the amount of collagen created. Collagen is an important component of skin tissue that contributes to wound healing.

“For the skin-tissue engineering, we did see an increase in the amount of collagen deposited by the stem cells after they attached to the polymer,” Kanitkar said. “For the bone-tissue engineering, we also found stem cells differentiating using these polymers as scaffolds. An increase in the amount of calcium deposited by the stem cells was also seen, indicating formation of bone.”

Now that a polymer has been found to have tissue-engineering potential, Kanitkar said, the next steps include determining tailor-made degradation rates for skin tissue engineering. For bone-tissue engineering, animal testing is needed to determine if bone is regenerated using scaffolds made with the biodegradable polymers.

While these findings are promising, Aita said, using these polymers to grow bones and tissues for humans requires further research.

“But this is a wonderful start,” Aita said. “And using sugarcane byproducts for bone- and skin-tissue engineering will add to the value of the sugar industry.”

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