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Sustainable Biomaterials Use Natural Resources for a Better World


May 17, 2011 – Researchers in the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products are working to put sustainable, renewable, natural nanocomposites into everyday products and to improve quality of life. “Our faculty members are working to develop new technologies pertaining to nanocellulose and drug delivery systems with a focus on finding new ways to use natural resources in products that make for a better world,” Department Head Barry Goodell explained.

   

Scott Renneckar holds a spool of wood cellulose-derived Lyocell yarn, used to make high-end fabrics and other products. Scott Renneckar holds a spool of wood cellulose-derived Lyocell yarn, used to make high-end fabrics and other products.

Biomaterials scientist Scott Renneckar is making inroads using biobased nanocomposites with nanomaterials derived from plants for such diverse applications as transparent films, paper additives, reinforcement for high-strength polymer composites, tissue scaffolds, high-end fabrics, and electronics. Nanocellulose materials are an environmentally sustainable form of nanotechnology because they combine utility with sustainability and safety, making them one of the most promising biobased nanomaterials.

“We have characterized these materials that have a thickness, sometimes less than 1 nanometer [one billionth of a meter], and hundreds to thousands of nanometers in length, and combined them with other biobased polymers to make films and foams with controlled architecture,” Renneckar explained. “By starting with the basic building blocks found in plants, we hope that we can mimic the structure of the wood cell wall. That way, we may one day be able to take waste agriculture and forest residues, or recycled paper waste streams, and assemble isolated nanomaterials from them into composites that perform like wood, but with additives that enhance durability, aesthetics, and functionality.”

   

Maren Roman is studying the use of cellulose-derived nanoparticles in cancer drug delivery. Maren Roman is studying the use of cellulose-derived nanoparticles in cancer drug delivery.

Another biomaterials scientist, Maren Roman, is studying the use of cellulose-derived nanoparticles in cancer drug delivery. “My lab has developed a chemical strategy to target cellulose nanocrystals to malignant tumor cells, allowing the selective delivery of anticancer drugs to cancerous tissue while bypassing the healthy cells,” stated Roman. In collaboration with a colleague at Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Roman has demonstrated that the targeted and drug-loaded cellulose nanocrystals are more effective in eradicating cancer cells than drugs alone.

Biobased polysaccharides are another area of emphasis. “Polysaccharides can make medicines work better, and they can outperform almost any other material, petroleum-based or otherwise, in drug delivery” said Professor Kevin Edgar, who directs the Biobased Materials Center in Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. Edgar’s research group has made recent progress in developing polysaccharide derivatives to attack disease-causing organisms like the tuberculosis bacterium and the HIV virus.


    CNRE Newsmagazine Spring 2011 Cover

Spring 2011

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