Milk could be the key to helping regrow muscle and eventually body parts.
A Canterbury University PhD student is using milk protein to create biodegradable films with 3D imprints in the shape of muscle and bone cells on them in the hope they may influence the shape and growth of cells.
Azadeh Hashemi is focused on creating those films using casein - one of the two proteins found in milk - so they are biodegradable and would not need to be removed if used as an implant.
"The aim of my work is to replicate a 3D imprint of cells on to films made of milk protein, to use them as a substrate for growing cells. Development of the replication process and controlling the biodegradability of these films are the main parts of this work," she says.
"The patterns on these biodegradable cell culture substrates mimic the cells' natural physical environment and they can influence cell shape and growth. Once they have done their job, the films gradually degrade and leave the grown tissue behind."
Hashemi, in collaboration with Canterbury University's Dr Volker Nock and Dr Azam Ali at Otago University, had created the shapes with high resolution and managed to decrease the time taken for the film to degrade.
Nock said the early results were promising and Hashemi 's work took the research to the next level.
Exactly how the films could be implanted into a human body had yet to be tested but in theory their application could help recovery from injury or disease with muscle or bone replacement.
"If they can help the cells grow into muscles, bones or other tissues they would be able to replace any missing body part and help them regrow," Hashemi said.
"These films could especially be used as implants to help missing tissue or muscle regrow using the surface patterns as a guide. The biodegradable implant would then just dissolve and there won't be any need for secondary surgery to take the implant out."
Hashemi was just starting to get results showing what influence the shapes had on the cells and how the shapes changed over time.
"In the lab we usually grow cells on flat surfaces but in the human body which is their natural environment they grow next to other cells."
The next step would be to trial the same process with different types of cells, including stem cells.
"We might even be able to stop cancer cells from being cancerous by growing them on these patterns, in which case the biodegradability of the substrates would also be an advantage for eliminating the need for secondary surgery," she said.
"Ultimately we would like to use them as implants and hopefully control the way cells grow."