Penn State scientists are developing a new breed of “ouchless” bandages made from – of all things – starch fibers that would dissolve naturally and be absorbed by the body.
The development also paves the way for inexpensive, eco-friendly and biodegradable toilet paper, napkins and other products, the researchers said.
"There are many applications for starch fibers," said Lingyan Kong, a Penn food science expert. "Starch is the most abundant and also the least expensive of natural polymers."
Kong and colleagues used a solvent to dissolve the starch into a fluid that can be spun like thread into long strands, or fibers. These fibers can be combined and formed into paper-like mats similar to napkins, tissues and other types of paper products.
Companies could use the technology to make bandages and other medical dressings using starch fibers. Unlike bandages that must be -- often painfully -- removed, starch bandages would degrade into glucose, a substance the body safely absorbs.
"Starch is easily biodegradable, so bandages made from it would, over time, be absorbed by the body," said Kong. "So, you wouldn't have to remove them."
Starches are polymers made of amylose and amylopectin. They are typically found in corn, potatoes, arrowroot and other plants, are most familiar as cornstarch, potato starch and tapioca starch.
Kong noted that because starch is so abundant, it is less expensive than other materials currently used to form fibers such as cellulose, typically derived from trees. Petroleum-based polymers are also used as raw materials.
The study was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.