When people talk about the end use of wood pulp, they usually don’t think of 3D cell culture. However, UPM has successfully developed GrowDex, an animal-free hydrogel extracted from birch wood, over the past decade. Birch is first processed into wood pulp along with pulp fibers, and then the wood pulp is used to make nanocellulose (NFC) hydrogels.
Since the beginning of the millennium, nanotechnology and its benefits have attracted widespread attention. Today, this technology has produced artificial meat, 3D printed organs and cosmetics that do not require animal testing. Although UPM started the research and development of nanocellulose and its applications very early, the real potential of nanocellulose did not appear until a long time later.
Innovative new materials
According to EU directives, animal products should be stopped as much as possible in the development of new drugs and cosmetics tests. Pekka Hurskainen, vice president of strategy and new business development at UPM, said, “We believe that this kind of hydrogel made of wood material has market demand.” The products of our competitors are generally developed through artificial synthesis or based on animals. , But our products are different. ”Hurskainen explained that“ our wood comes from sustainable and responsible forests, which is one of the reasons why our customers like us. Our raw materials are also certified by FSC® and PEFCTM. “
2008: UPM, together with other partners VTT and Aalto University, established the Finnish Nanocellulose Research Center in Otaniemi, Finland. In the same year, UPM collaborated with the University of Helsinki on the first cell culture experiment-as the beginning of GrowDex biomedical applications.
2012: The first scientific article related to GrowDex is released, and related research is in progress.
2014: GrowDex hydrogel products are launched.
3D cell culture case
Cell culture refers to the process of growing cells outside the natural growth environment and under controlled laboratory conditions, using 2D and 3D technologies. “3D is becoming more and more popular because it can simulate the natural environment of cells more than 2D culture. And it is generally believed that 3D culture is more biologically meaningful.
This is a new type of cell culture method. Hurskainen explained: “We evaluated the business case and the market potential of different applications and found that 3D cell culture is the most promising. “This is the key to UPM’s decision to focus on the application of GrowDex in the biopharmaceutical market.
Hurskainen added: “The cell culture market is a huge market worth about 12 billion euros, and is still growing rapidly. At the same time, the 3D cell culture field is currently worth 3 million euros, maintaining a steady growth of 20-30%.”
GrowDex hydrogels are biocompatible and provide an ideal environment to support cell growth and conduct cell research. Cells, spheroids (small tumors), and biopsy samples can all be cultured in GrowDex and used for research, such as drug response for new drug development or personalized drugs for cancer treatment.
Hydrogels can also be used for 3D printing, providing a way to create tissues or structures by combining with cells. Using human cells to create skin models for testing drugs, chemicals or cosmetics can replace animal experiments and provide more applicable data. In addition, the combination of GrowDex and cells into a scaffold can be used in tissue engineering in the future to manufacture human implants for tissue repair and regeneration.
3D is the future trend
3D cell culture has a wide range of applications, including in the field of veterinary medicine. UPM has identified the huge potential of hydrogels in medical innovation and is currently focusing on research in human applications.
“Pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, research institutions, and hospitals all use cell culture. It is mainly used for cell research, development of different disease models, safety testing, drug development, regenerative medicine, and tissue engineering.” Hurskainen said. “In the existing application fields, the most important ones are cancer research, drug screening, stem cell and regenerative medicine,” he added. “In the long run, natural clinical applications such as wound healing, implants, and diagnosis are all Potential applications for hydrogels. “