A recent study in the journal Biomaterials proposes using photosynthetic green microalgae to solve a pressing problem in the field of regenerative medicine. After a burn or other serious injury, a patient’s dead tissue is surgically removed, and a dressing is applied to the wound. The body eventually recovers by forming a scar.
Advancements in the field of artificial tissue engineering have enabled the prospect of using a patient’s own cells to grow new skin and muscle tissues in a laboratory, which can then be transplanted at the site of the wound. However, researchers have been unable to engineer viable capillaries given their small size and fragile meshwork. Faced with this challenge, the researchers in this study cleverly chose to circumvent this problem by incorporating algae into the tissue scaffolds prior to implantation.
When the algae embedded in the cell tissue are exposed to light, they undergo photosynthesis and produce oxygen, where it is locally available to neighboring cells. Incredibly, the study also shows that algae in engineered tissues can be genetically modified to safely produce and deliver beneficial molecules like human growth factors directly to cells in addition to oxygen, further enhancing recovery.
In case you were wondering, that green color eventually disappears. The algae, having served their function, are broken down and absorbed by the body.