Seeds of albumin

Novel hemp seed oil extraction method from Boulder’s ECS Brands offers new source of plant-based protein that could revolutionize medical supply chains.

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When a patient comes into an emergency room, bleeding profusely, or suffering from serious burns or other trauma, there’s a specific protein that’s often administered to help prevent the patient from going into shock: albumin. It’s an essential molecule in modern medicine, used in hospitals everywhere. And over the last two decades it’s been in scarce supply around the world. 

Because, until now, there have really .only been two viable sources to extract albumin from: human blood plasma and egg whites. However, thanks to scientific techniques developed by the Boulder-based company ECS Brands, there’s now a third source of albumin the medical community can easily draw from. A source that’s organic, plant-based and regenerative: hemp seeds. 

“Albumin is a very essential protein for humans, it’s a protein that transports nutrients throughout the body,” says Arthur Jaffee, the CEO and founder of ECS brands. “When it comes to pharmaceutical research, medical research, pharmaceutical development, drug delivery systems, it’s pretty crucial.”

ECS Brands is a hemp extract company that Jaffee started in 2018. They make certified organic 100% hemp water solubles for large hemp extract companies. They’ve also developed a new scientific method for extracting hemp seed oil in order to isolate the edestin and albumin proteins they contain, which could revolutionize access to this essential medical protein. 

“In terms of plant-based albumin, hemp is really the only one,” Jaffee says. Until now, though, it’s been cost-ineffective to extract it on any kind of large scale. 

He explains that the conventional means of extracting oil from hemp seeds to isolate these proteins involves taking whole seeds (the shell and the nutrient containing “heart” within), and cold pressing them with a hydraulic press, squeezing all of the nutrients out. Unfortunately, during that process, that the chlorophyll from the crushed shell leeches into the oil — giving it a dark green color and accelerating the product’s oxidation rate.

“It basically just completely ruins the extended shelf life of [a commercial product],” Jaffee says.

The process is also expensive, he adds. The size, scale and electrical requirements to consistently repeat that process cut deeply into the possible profit margins. That has prevented hemp from being adopted as a source of plant-based proteins for a long time; it was simply too expensive, and the end-product too short-lived to be a viable source of albumin at scale. 

ECS brands has found a way around that, though — using its patented algae-derived biopolymers. They titrate those biopolymers in a water base, creating curves in the polarity (the PH) of the solution, Jaffee explains. In manipulating that polarity “up and down” over the course of about eight hours, the shell of the seed opens up “like a clam,” he describes. 

“With a very, very mild agitation, we can separate seed [hearts] from the shell,” Jaffee says. “In that same step, we are creating a separation of the oil that’s contained in the seed.”

The oil that’s left over is a bright golden color, instead of the dark green oil that is produced through the compression-extraction method, and it’s got a much more stable shelf-life. From that oil, ECS brands can then isolate the plant-based protein as a whole, and separate the two proteins contained in the hemp: ediston and albumin. 

“What has challenged the pharmaceutical industry for a while is that they were harvesting albumin from other blood … And much like everything else, the ethics of it started impeding on that process,” Jaffee says. “And even with egg whites … it’s still not plant-based. So, there’s still ethical and animal rights considerations there.” 

By comparison, hemp-derived albumin is plant-based and regenerative (and it’s also organic from ECS Brands). Not only does that negate any ethical concerns with the collection and distribution of regular albumin, it also means there’s a reliable source that can be generated at scale. 

That could revolutionize the medical community’s access to albumin, Jaffee hopes. Which, in turn, could help save lives in emergency rooms around the world. 

“I think pharma companies and pharmaceutical development researchers are going to get [a lot] of excitement from this,” he says.