Scientists at the University of Bolton have developed a bandage containing crab shell components that accelerate the healing process within wounds. The bandage, a world first, has been designed by the university’s Fibre Science and Technology team.
It is constructed using a key material: chitosan. Derived from crustacean shells, this compound is known for its antimicrobial properties, although scientists are still debating the mechanism behind this activity. It is already used in agriculture as a way to help plants fight off fungal and bacterial infections. In addition, it has impressive blood-clotting abilities, and reduces pain by blocking nerve endings.
It’s also remarkably easy to produce. Several types of crustacean shells are treated with a strong alkaline substance, and the exoskeleton’s chitin – a derivative of glucose – breaks down into chitosan.
To this end, chitosan has gained approval in the U.S. and Europe for use in bandages. In fact, products using chitosan have already been tested by the U.S. Marine Corps and shown to be particularly effective at stopping severely bleeding wounds. This project by the University of Bolton is the culmination of 10 years of research spawning from this approval process.
Alchite, the primary construction material for the new bandage, is a combination of alginate – a gloopy substance in the cell walls of brown algae – and chitosan. Although there is research out there that demonstrates that chitosan does provide extensive wound healing and blood clotting, there’s no word yet on how much faster this new bandage heals wounds compared to conventional ones.
This won’t be the first time that crabs have been used in medical science. The horseshoe crab, a 450-million-year-old crustacean, has bright blue blood with incredible antibacterial properties. This animal doesn’t have any white blood cells to help suppress infections; instead, like many invertebrates, it has amebocytes – mobile cells that gather around foreign agents within the blood and stop them in their tracks by triggering clotting.
This ability to rapidly coagulate blood is used to see if any medical samples contain toxins or bacteria within just 45 minutes. With this toxin detection system and these wound-healing bandages, it seems that medical science owes the crustacean world a great deal.