Artificial Blood vessels from Jatropha? After bio-diesel, this humble tropical weed could now help Indian researchers to indigenously develop blood vessels.

A biodegradable polymer recently developed from Jatropha has attracted researchers from IIT-Madras to work towards a project in this direction. The IITians are not alone. A Thiruvananthapuram-based medical institute Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology (SCTIMST) and a Belgium-based multi-national company have also evinced interest in the polymer developed by a Gujarat-based national research institute.

The Central Salt Marine Chemicals and Research Institute (CSMCRI) located in Bhavnagar district of the state has hit upon a process by which biodegradable polymers can be developed at almost zero-cost using one of the byproducts of Jatropha — a drought-resistant perennial plant that grows even in sandy and saline conditions.

“The technique to create bio-degradable plastic from the recently dis-covered polymers may not remain limited to making bio-degradable polythene bags. The Indian Institute of Technology-Madras has now evinced interest in collaborating with us in developing artificial blood vessels,” said Pushpito K Ghosh, director of the institute.  The institute has so far been offering its expertise to a number of Indian and foreign automotive manufactures like DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra to develop efficient vehicles that run on bio-diesel sourced from Jatropha.

It has also been doing pioneering work in developing bio-diesel from Jatropha. The scientists, however, continued to experiment with one of the by-products crude glycerol and discovered this biodegradable polymer which is believed to have multiple uses in the field of medicine including the development of artificial blood vessels.  Such artificial blood vessels generally comprises of a woven, braided or knitted fabric structure. They are tubes made from synthetic (chemically produced) materials to restore blood circulation.   “The polymer could be used in spinning thin hollow fibres which could act as a substitute for blood vessels,” Mr Ghosh said.

The polymer was a “relatively inert material” and is biodegradable when left in soil. “The long term degradation of this material is a matter of careful study,” he added.  A leading cardiac surgeon in Ahmedabad, Dr Apoorva Kanhere says that any material that is being developed as an artificial blood vessel need to be inert and supple. “It should not be thrombogenic (meaning it should not aid the clotting of blood) and it should also be able to withstand the blood pressure,” he said.

Synthetic grafts in humans are often required in various vascular by-pass surgeries. Such surgery is done to open blocked arteries in one part of the body by using a vessel from elsewhere in the body. How-ever, up to 40% of patients (especially those who are diabetic) don’t have a vessel suitable for the procedure. In such cases, surgeons use synthetic grafts or artificial blood vessels.

While IITians are looking to develop artificial blood vessels, a Kerala-based institute is also looking at possibilities to develop nano particulate systems which could be used in developing medical instruments for targeted delivery of drugs.

The new discovery has also caught the attention of a Belgium-based firm which is looking to jointly collaborate with CSMCRI to commercially develop the bio-polymer on a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) basis.   “If negotiations work out, then a joint collaboration with this firm can be forged, Mr Ghosh said.  “This will help the discovery to be taken to the second phase which will involve scaling up the production of the polymers from a few grams to kilogram,” he added.  Eventually, according Mr Ghosh, the third phase of the project at CSMCRI will involve scaling up the production to the tonne-mark.

“We have sent a few grams of the polymer to both the institutes (IIT-Madras and SCTIMST) for preliminary tests,” Mr Ghosh said.  The success of the polymer has also attracted the country’s Department of Science and Technology which has floated a proposal to fund 70% of the project cost, provided the institute has an industry partner who can fund the remaining 30% of the cost.