June 17, 2014
Growing Beer Bones
To call beer a popular beverage would be a massive understatement, akin to calling Jimi Hendrix “an okay guitarist” or Adolf Hitler “a bit extreme.” It shows up in mugs, breads, and burgers. In most European countries, it’s as common as water or a soda with your meal. It appeals to a wide range of people, each of whom approaches it from a different perspective. It ranges from crazy frat-boys slamming kegs at a house party to get drunk, to the fisherman enjoying a beer on his boat, to the sports fans cheering at a screen while they clink their bottles in joy (or dismay). The complex nature of the brewing process and the capacity to brew one’s own beer has made it more than just a drink — for some, it’s a hobby. There’s even an old playful quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin regarding the divine joys of beer, and how its existence proves we are guarded by a benevolent God (though technically that’s a misquote, as the only thing we can be sure Franklin wrote along those lines was about wine).
Now beer lovers have one more reason to celebrate their favorite beverage. Researchers from the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and the Centre for Biomedical Technology of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) have joined forces with the Mahou and Createch Co. to create a new compound that can be used in the regeneration of bones. This compound happens to come from the waste product made by brewing beer. These wastes contain a lot of the same chemical building blocks that are present in our bones — namely, calcium, magnesium, silica, and phosphorus – and, when properly treated and modified, can be used to build a supporting scaffold that could be laced onto bones, promoting growth and healthy regeneration. This has a multifaceted impact from both an environmental and medical perspective. Not only does this provide an environmentally conscious alternative to the potentially damaging synthetics used currently, but also it also quite simply reduces the amount of waste that the beer companies are outputting.
This product is called bagasse, and it comes from organic malt waste. It never goes through any further natural modification, making it cheap fodder. This new process takes the base bagasse and transforms it into a new porous material holding all the right chemical building bones, and a pore density structure that is remarkably similar to that of cancellous bone. This allows for complete vascularization following the bone implant. To further ensure that the compatibility of this final product, the team took a look at how the product grafted to bone cells in a controlled environment, then analyzed the result for some of the telltale markers of bone phenotype like alkaline phosphatase.
The medical and financial implications for this are huge, and I’m sure the beer companies won’t mind selling off their waste for a few extra dollars. Heck, if someone came in and offered to buy my garbage (for science!) I’d be more than happy to let them.
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