AgraTech International is in the vanguard of application development and on the forefront of improved manufacturing techniques for chitin and chitosan. This scientific momentum will position the Company as the leader in worldwide competition and enable it to develop new markets for an ever-expanding line of products. The Company believes that chitosan usage will increase dramatically in the near future and, rather than wait for that to happen, it will fully employ its research and development to drive progress. The Company will also benefit from the accelerated R&D now being conducted in other corporate and university laboratories. Researchers there are often eager to partner with AgraTech, because of its commanding position in the industry.
Agricultural applications are of particular interest to the Company. Agriculture is a high-volume market, yet it does not require a high purity material. The purity required is within immediate reach of initial chitosan production capabilities. AgraTech will produce and promote chitosan-based materials as a treatment on leafy crops to reduce damage from insects and inhibit the growth of fungi. Banana growers, whose plants suffer from the Black Sigatoka fungus, are one of many specialty farming groups who would be interested in this application. Also, Chitosan has been shown to slow the ripening process of bananas once they are harvested, increasing shelf life. Chitosan would reduce the need for synthetic pesticides and fungicides and be promoted and endorsed as a natural remedy and preservative.
The Company is examining a very promising application project that involves a modified chitosan that creates a long-lasting hydrophobic surface on glass (patent number: 8,852,678). A glass surface is treated so that the chitosan can bond to it. The bound chitosan is then modified with the addition of a molecule, such as hexyloxyphenol, to create a hydrophobic, or water-repellant, surface. When applied to automobile windshields, this technology creates the same effect as some products currently available. AgraTech’s approach is innovative, because reapplication is not required, as it is with currently available products. Additionally, the treatment does not cause “starring” from streaks, an always annoying and sometimes dangerous night-driving problem. Hydrophobic treatment can also be used on skyscraper windows. This treated glass will substantially reduce building maintenance – and perhaps insurance costs – as it will need to be cleaned less frequently than untreated glass. Additional applications for the coating include, but are not limited to, commercial vehicles, military vehicles, airplane windows, commercial and residential window glass, and shower doors.
The Company is collaborating with a licensed civilian defense contractor to more robustly develop and rigorously test this product before bringing it to the marketplace. Research indicates an enormous potential market for the Company’s hydrophobic coating. According to Catalina Research of Boca Raton, FL, the U.S. market for flat glass and value-added glass products was almost $5 billion in 2005. The window and door glass market in the U.S. was expected to reach $36.5 billion in 2010. AgraTech is aggressively pursuing this opportunity.
Recently, the Company initiated research on a remarkably promising chitosan-based product, a spray for the treatment of epistaxis (nose bleeds). A standard patent application has been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (serial numbers: 13/324,454 ; 14/364,463 ). The technology, which is currently in development, treats bleeding below the surface of the mucus membrane in the nose, clotting the blood at the source of the problem, eliminating the need for packing or other external bleeding control methods. The spray is intended to take advantage of chitosan’s hemostatic properties and could potentially be used in other areas of the body where submucosal bleeding takes place.
Utilizing the technology behind the hemostatic spray, AgraTech is researching a sunscreen formulation that would penetrate the surface of the skin, preventing the sunscreen agent from being washed away by perspiration or external water sources. The sunscreen will take advantage of chitosan’s non-allergenic and biocompatible properties, and with the selection of appropriate UV sunscreen actives, the resulting product will be a natural, long-lasting shield against UV skin damage. AgraTech is also investigating the use of the sunscreen technology in liquid drops to protect the eyes from UV damage and as a lip balm. The sunscreen technology is protected under the patent application for the hemostatic spray.
Another medical-oriented technology that AgraTech is examining is a resorbable dental surgical membrane. In oral surgery, bone graft material is utilized to fill holes in the jaw bone, such as when a tooth is removed during implant surgery. A membrane is placed over the bone graft material to prevent it from migrating out of the hole while allowing nutrients to pass through to the bone graft material. The membrane also prevents ingrowth of soft tissue surrounding the hole while allowing the soft tissue to grow over and cover the surgical site. The chitosan membrane is easy to insert, confines the bone graft material, allows access of required substances, excludes unwanted substances, allows soft tissue coverage of the site without ingrowth and resorbs over time, reducing the amount of surgery required and subsequently reducing the cost and morbidity of oral and implant surgery. A Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application has been filed with the US Patent & Trademark Office (serial number: 14/359,254). Initial membranes produced in the Company laboratory indicate this technology will surpass the originally high expectations for this approach to dental membrane technology.
The Company intends to explore the thermal properties of chitin and chitosan to determine whether either material could be melt-processed into complex shapes, such as bottles and plastic utensils. Currently, these one-use items are made of synthetic plastics that do not degrade. When not recycled – yet discarded responsibly – they exacerbate landfill problems. When discarded carelessly on beaches, they collect in massive, swirling pools at sea, disrupting sea creatures’ natural habitats. Scientists and public officials are clamoring for a solution. If chitin or chitosan is used, these items become biodegradable and less of an overall environmental problem. The physical properties of chitin and chitosan in solid form would be researched in order to determine those applications best suited for thermally processed chitin and chitosan.
The chemical structure of chitosan makes it easy to modify and change its characteristics. This is of interest as chitosan can be adapted for use in many different applications by adding various chemical groups to the basic chitosan molecule. These modifications can be done to produce new materials or to alter the surface properties of films and other objects made of chitosan. The Company can exploit this property to create new and improved products, opening new markets where unmodified chitosan would have had little or no applicability.
The Company does not limit its research and development to its own laboratory and facilities at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. AgraTech has affiliated itself with accomplished university and industry scientists throughout the USA who require a high quality chitosan for their work. These connections will certainly bear fruit for the Company as it expands into new, highly profitable markets. One such affiliation is with Dr. Joel Bumgardner at the University of Memphis. Dr. Bumgardner is an industry advisor for AgraTech. His research involves coating titanium orthopedic and dental implants with chitosan to facilitate the healing process after the implants have been inserted into the body. Much of his work has been performed using high quality chitosan provided by the Company. This work has shown promising results. Based on conversations with the Technology Transfer Office at the University of Memphis, AgraTech anticipates exclusive licensing rights to Dr. Bumgardner’s research.
The Company is in discussions with other scientists and physicians interested in affiliating with it and is confident that new, profitable connections will materialize. Through this open and broad-based approach to research and development, the extraordinary potential for chitin and chitosan will be realized. Independently, the Company has developed a useful product and an advanced manufacturing technique. Also, it has gained the confidence and respect - at the university level - of other important researchers in the field, scientists who undoubtedly will contribute to the product line of the Company. As a chitosan product manufacturer and researcher, the Company will capitalize directly on the usefulness of chitin and chitosan. AgraTech will remain at the forefront of chitin and chitosan manufacturing, creating new products and opening new markets for chitin and chitosan.