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  • Engineered biobased material shows promise of protein engineering


    The unique material outperforms most of today's synthetic and natural materials by providing high strength and stiffness, combined with increased toughness.

    vAchieving strength and extensibility at the same time has so far been a great challenge in material engineering: increasing strength has meant losing extensibility and vice versa. Now Aalto University and VTT researchers have succeeded in overcoming this challenge, inspired by nature.

    The researchers created a truly new bio-based material by gluing together wood cellulose fibres and the silk protein found in spider web threads. The result is a very firm and resilient material which could be used in the future as a possible replacement for plastic, as part of bio-based composites and in medical applications, surgical fibres, textile industry and packaging.

    According to Aalto University Professor Markus Linder, nature offers great ingredients for developing new materials, such as firm and easily available cellulose and tough and flexible silk used in this research. The advantage with both of these materials is that, unlike plastic, they are biodegradable and do not damage nature the same way micro-plastic do.

    'Our researchers just need to be able to reproduce these natural properties', adds Linder, who was also leading the research.

    'We used birch tree pulp, broke it down to cellulose nanofibrils and aligned them into a stiff scaffold. At the same time, we infiltrated the cellulosic network with a soft and energy dissipating spider silk adhesive matrix,' says Research Scientist Pezhman Mohammadi from VTT.

    Silk is a natural protein which is excreted by animals like silkworms and also found in spider web threads. The spider web silk used by Aalto University researchers, however, is not actually taken from spider webs but is instead produced by the researchers using bacteria with synthetic DNA.

    'Because we know the structure of the DNA, we can copy it and use this to manufacture silk protein molecules which are chemically similar to those found in spider web threads. The DNA has all this information contained in it', Linder explains.

    'Our work illustrates the new and versatile possibilities of protein engineering. In future, we could manufacture similar composites with slightly different building blocks and achieve a different set of characteristics for other applications. Currently we are working on making new composite materials as implants, impact resistance objects and other products," says Pezhman.

    The research project is part of the work of the the Centre of Excellence in Molecular Engineering of Biosynthetic Hybrid Materials (Hyber).

    The research was published in Science Advances 13 September, 2019:

  • Biocomposites take the Cake


    Cake, which recently launched a groundbreaking electric motorbike, will now collaborate with Trifilon, an exciting Swedish startup that designs and sells sustainable materials with advanced biocomposite technology.

    aThe partnership was born of Cake’s mission to explore new sustainable technologies while producing exciting high-performance motorbikes. Trifilon’s biocomposites, which are produced with fibers from hemp and flax plants, can help the company improve its sustainability merits while maintaining the performance of its motorbikes.

    The current project will seek to replace current plastic components with Trifilon’s plant-based biocomposites. With Cake’s ethos of sustainability and clean transportation, the company has found a good match in the green-tech startup Trifilon, which helps companies systematically lower CO2 emissions and integrate renewable materials. Trifilon’s hemp-based biocomposite BioLite reduces the CO2 footprint from its manufacture by at least one third.

    “This is a great match because our companies are both about performance and sustainability. I think fans of Cake motorbikes will respond positively to having our plant fiber composites in their motorbikes. It will mean that some ingredients in their motorbikes come from European farms. That makes these exciting motorbikes even cooler and more sustainable,” said Trifilon’s CEO and co-founder Martin Lidstrand.

    The technology behind Trifilon’s biocomposites was initially intended for the automotive segment, as a substitute for lightweight, strong carbon fiber. Trifilon had previously developed and built the body of a car for Volkswagen Rally with its hemp-based biocomposite, BioLite.

  • Heart valve made of biopolymer implanted successfully


    Biopolymers can help to save lives and improve the quality of life. The new Tria valve, developed by Foldax, Inc., has the potential to address durability and clotting issues associated with traditional artificial heart valves.

    aThe Tria valve was implanted in a human patient at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, USA. Dr. Marc Sakwa, Beaumont’s Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery, said, “The procedure was successfully performed on July 30th and the patient is doing well and has been discharged.”

    Tria heart valves are made of LifePolymer, an advanced biopolymer material. They feature a patented design to create a valve with the potential for lowering the cost of medical care given the increasing costs of using animal tissue valves and their associated durability and calcification concerns. The valve is designed to reduce or eliminate the need for a lifetime of anticoagulant drugs, including their risks and side effects.

    The proprietary biopolymer material and design of the Tria heart valves also allows for high volume manufacturing. The valves are robotically manufactured to provide the highest level of quality and precision and allow for future patient customization, while eliminating the variability of human production.

    In February, Foldax, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted investigative device exemption (IDE) approval for an Early Feasibility Study of the Tria surgical aortic heart valve to treat aortic valve disease.

    “The start of our EFS study in the US represents a major milestone for Foldax and heart valve patients worldwide since Tria valves represent true next generation technology. We are bringing 21st Century solutions to the worldwide problem of providing high quality products at an affordable price,” said Ken Charhut, Foldax executive chairman.

    Foldax’s Tria valves were developed by drawing on expertise from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) for proprietary polymer development and Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science and Chemistry Department. The Company’s investors include Kairos Ventures and Biostar Capital.

    The complete Tria heart valve platform will include valves developed for use in aortic and mitral valve disease with transcatheter and surgical applications. The company plans to complete enrolment in its Aortic EFS study at Beaumont Hospital and two additional sites this year.

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