Irish seaweed as wound dressing?

Annabel Higgins Hoare

Posted: 11 November, 2016

Annabel Higgins Hoare is an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholar currently undertaking a PhD in the Department of Chemical and life Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology. She is in the second year of her research project, which is entitled ‘Development of a Novel, Heat-Stable, Wound Dressing using Seaweed Derived Antimicrobial Compounds’. She joins us today to tell us about her research and reflect on our November #LoveIrishResearch theme ‘Science, Technology and You’.

Science and Technology have an enormous impact on how the world around us is shaped, understood and, ultimately, used for our own advancement.  As simple as this statement seems, what does it mean? I want to explain what it means for me, not in terms of vague sweeping statements, but instead, on a local, relatable level.

As a scientist, I can only explain what I do, why I love it and how it will (hopefully!) make an impact on our community.

In a nutshell, I extract antibacterial agents from Irish seaweed (picked locally by yours truly) and test them for activity against strains of pathogenic bacteria kindly donated to me by an Irish hospital.  I hope to incorporate any natural antibiotics that I come across into a wound dressing for the treatment of skin infections, particularly infections already resistant to current antibiotics. My methods are not unlike making tea using seaweed, although, I’ve recently been introduced to a microwave which has gussied up my process somewhat.

Why is this important? Well from an economical viewpoint, wound management is a significant burden to the taxpayer in terms of materials, hospitalisation and expertise in after care. It is estimated that about €285 million is spent on chronic wound care per annum in Ireland alone; a figure which is on the rise with the appearance of antimicrobial resistant bacteria that commonly infect wounds.

I mean, everyone’s heard of things like ‘MRSA’, ‘superbugs’ and ‘antimicrobial resistance’, but our media focuses so much on shock factor events that very little real concern is given to any one catastrophe. Scare mongering may sell papers but it also desensitises people to some of the genuine issues the public is and will face, such as multi-drug resistance.  For example, a 2016 review commissioned by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that by 2050 more people will die of once simple infections than of cancer.

As daunting as that reality is, it’s one of the reasons why I love my research. It’s relevant, in the here and in the now.

By working in collaboration with a hospital, I’ve been given access to some of the latest strains that medical professionals are fighting against every day; and as crazy as it sounds to be using seaweed to kill MRSA and other superbugs, my preliminary results show that it’s doing a pretty fantastic job.

It’s mad to think that seaweed has recently been described as a ‘super food’. Before starting my research, I never would have thought about it as more than a constant in the background of my beach memories; and yet, seaweed has been found to have: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-viral, pro-healing (and of course) antimicrobial properties.

Seaweed is such a vastly under-utilised commercial resource that we, as the inhabitants of an island, have access to literally at every corner. The promise that seaweed extracts hold in medicinal terms is genuinely exciting which is why I, at the very least, #LoveIrishResearch.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Irish Research Council or any employee thereof.

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