The sludge at the bottom of a beer barrel isn't useful for much, but researchers have found that a byproduct of the brewing process could be used to help regenerate bone tissue. Called beer bagasse, the byproduct could ultimately help people who suffer from severe fractures and even osteoporosis, which causes brittle bones.
Usually, oseteoblasts, which are immature bone cells, can be grown on prosthetics, bone grafts and dental implants that are coated with synthetic calcium phosphate, a composition that resembles the natural bone. However, the coatings can be toxic and expensive, costing about $92,000 a pound.
Bagasse, on the other hand, is organic and costs around $54 per ton. A study published in the Royal Society of Chemistry earlier this year showed that beer bagasse could serve as both a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to synthetic scaffolds.
The beer bagasse was processed into a material that resembles the bone, which is rich in silicon, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium. These chemicals are interspersed with interconnected pores where blood vessels can grow.
Through the study, researchers found that osteoblasts were able to survive and mature on the beer bagasse scaffolds just as well as calcium phosphate. Researchers say this could eliminate "the use of nonrenewable raw materials or toxic substances."
For now, the tests have only been conducted on cells, not on actual humans. So, it is likely to be a long time before beer bagasse is regularly used (if ever) in the orthopedics department.