Biosynthetic cellulose is a nature-inspired material that can be used to reduce pain and risk of infection for wounds such as burns. Even today, around 11 million people worldwide suffer from burns every year, many of these children. Applying and removing wound dressings can still be extremely painful, but biosynthetic cellulose materials offer a solution. Thanks to their bioengineered architecture, which is generated by bacteria, the dressing doesn’t stick to the wound and has an excellent biocompatibility. The material also supplies high levels of moisture to support wound healing.
Advanced wound dressings made of this material have been developed by JeNaCell, a small biotech company from the German city of Jena, which recently became part of Evonik. In this interview, Elizabeth Hawkins from Evonik Health Care asks Dr. Uwe Beekmann, Head of R&D at JeNaCell, to talk through the story behind biosynthetic cellulose and what developments the future holds.
Elizabeth Hawkins: Can you tell us what cellulose is and how this differs from biosynthetic cellulose?
Uwe Beekmann: Cellulose comes from different sources. In general, it is the main component of plant cell walls with a mass fraction of about 50 percent, and therefore the most common organic compound and most common polysaccharide. However, cellulose can also be made by bacteria – mainly acetic acid bacteria.
In the picture below (figure 1) you can see a comparison between cellulose from plants and cellulose made from bacteria – biosynthetic cellulose. On the right-hand side, you see a bacterium and how it is producing very small cellulose fibers. This clearly distinguishes biosynthetic cellulose from plant cellulose. Chemically, both cellulose types have the same structure, but biosynthetic cellulose has a much higher purity than plant cellulose regarding byproducts like lignin or hemicellulose.