By Abdul Ghani Nasir
Pics by Saliman Leman
BANGI, 24 June, 2011 – A UKM researcher has succeeded in producing hydrogel from nata de coco which is made from coconut water for use by the medical, pharmaceutical dan cosmetics industries.
Associate Professor Dr Mohd Cairul Iqbal Mohd Amin, 39 has been able to culture cellulose bacteria by fermenting nata de coco with Acetobacter xylinum. The cellulose bacteria so formulated can become hyrdogel after being bombarded with electron beams.
Dr Cairul, the Deputy Dean (Graduate, Research & Innovation) Faculty of Pharmacy said hydrogel is a multiusage product. It can be used as a transdermal pad to heal cuts and act as an agent to transmit medicine in the body.
“It can also be used as a cooling pad that can help to bring down the body temperature especially among children who have fever.
“However our research project is more focussed on the drug delivery system. We want the hydrogel pad to be used not only to cure cuts, small bruises and skin damage by burns but for more of other uses as well”, he said.
For example, smokers may make use of the hydrogel pad as a nicotine pad to cure their cravings for cigarettes. The hydrogels can also be taken orally.
Dr Cairul is currently doing research to make use of hydrogel containing insulin for diabetics while also researching the use of hydrogel to make shoe soles or face masks in cosmetics.
A start-up company, Icon Pharma Sendirian Berhad had been formed under UKM Technology to work for the commercialisation of the hydrogel produced.
It is one of 10 UKM start-up companies which received funds from the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) to bring research related products to the market.
Dr Cairul said that after cellulose bacteria is fermented for a week, a layer of jelly like material appeared. “Those who run small enterprises can use the cellulose formed to be cut into cubes. After washing and mixing it with syrup of different tastes it can be sold as nata de coco which is now available in shops and supermarkets.”
Dr Cairul stumbled on the use of nata de coco for research, while doing his doctoral studies in pharmaceuticals.
While carrying out his research in 2001, he used a lot of cellulose but when he came back from overseas, the lack of facilities forced him to search for new methods.
“I saw my children buying and eating nata de coco. So I went to the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) to find out how the snack was produced.
“I found that nata de coco is pure cellulose. There are two types of cellulose that we can use, first from plants and the other from bacteria,” he said.
He said hydrogel products are readily available in the market but made from different materials. Hyrdogels from nata de coco which is pure cellulose is a new product. Dr Cairul has already obtained the patent for the first phase of his research that is making nata de coco as binders for tablet.
While waiting for the patent which he obtained last year, his research entered the second phase involving bombarding the materials with electron rays to produce the hydrogel.
Curently Dr Cairul is trying to forge working relationships with a number of companies. He had held meetings with pharmaceutical companies but faced financial constraints as more money is needed for further research.
He estimated a requirement of RM1.5 million to continue his research and for marketing of the product.
“We hope to be able to sell the hydrogel pad between RM3 and RM4 each which is cheaper than the cost of an imported fever soothing pad of RM5 to RM6. Our selling price includes charges for using electron beams facilities at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency,” he said.
He said the use of nata de coco will also have a spill-over effects since it can help generate small industries based on coconuts in Malaysia. He is confident on the abundant supplies of nata de coco but any shortfalls can be met by getting supplies from neighbouring countries like Indonesia.
Dr Cairul hopes the product could be marketed both locally and overseas within 15 months after obtaining funds for its commercialisation and getting a certificate from the National Pharmaceuticals Controlling Bureau.
Dr Cairul can be contacted through his email: