How Shrimp Shells Help Wounds Heal Faster

Crustaceans, like this imperial shrimp, have shells with antibacterial properties. Dave Fleetham/Getty Images

Known for being delicious (especially when dipped in a nice cocktail sauce), shrimp and other crustaceans, like crab, lobster and krill, also sport shells that pack an antimicrobial punch. Now, enterprising scientists are amping up the protective qualities of standard hydrogel bandages by incorporating chitin, a substance extracted from the shells. 

Hydrogel dressings are a popular type of bandage, known for cooling wounds and easily conforming to any body part. Researchers at Poland's Lodz University of Technology extracted chitosan from the shells of crustaceans and incorporated it into the hydrogel dressings. They chose chitosan because it has a sugar known for its antibacterial and biodegradable properties, and for helping stop bleeding.

The scientists made the chitosan usable by isolating a substance called chitin from the shells, and modifying its structure to produce chitosan, which was then purified. Through irradiation, the team combined hydrogel dressings with chitosan, employing electron beams and lactic acid to facilitate the process.

Initial findings indicate that the inclusion of chitosan in these dressings could be very beneficial to wound recovery. "The preliminary microbiological investigations showed that the growth of model Gram-positive bacteria was hindered in the presence of hydrogel comprising chitosan dissolved in LA (lactic acid), as compared to regular hydrogel dressing," the researchers wrote in the study.

Although many wounds are easily handled by a Band-aid and some standard antiseptic, plenty of others require heavy-hitting treatments, which is why the development of this new treatment option is kind of a big deal. This is especially critical considering the uptick in antimicrobial resistant fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasites, which the World Health Organization estimates could eventually kill about 10 million people annually by the year 2050.