Hydrogels are an extremely versatile class of material, and have found relevance in cosmetic, medical,
pharmaceutical, and industrial processes. A hydrogel has a low solid content, often comprising at least 90% water. Although hydrogels are increasingly used in cosmetics and drug manufacture, the production process is far from sustainable, relying on fossil-based polymers and chemical synthesis steps, using compounds that are harmful to human health.
I have discovered that a previously uncharacterised family of small protein domains can be used to cross-link polysaccharides (complex carbohydrate polymers), thereby creating a hydrogel network. The process avoids all chemical solvents, and allows us to use renewable biopolymers of natural origin, rather than fossil-based polymers. The polysaccharides we can use derive from biomass processing waste streams, promoting a circular bioeconomy and smart use of resources.
The research I propose will allow me to tailor my new protein cross-linked polysaccharide hydrogels for use in specific medical and cosmetic applications, such as for drug delivery and in moisturising gels. We will begin with protein characterisation and process optimisation, leading to the development and testing of relevant products.
This will be supported by market analysis to determine actual customer needs, as well as a comparative life cycle assessment, to examine the sustainability of our process compared with the standard industrial process