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Tiny Bioengineered Structures Boast Regenerative Powers

Meet the tiny biodegradable microstructures that can repair damaged heart tissue and work to prevent future heart failure.

Kristopher Sturgis

It's no secret that heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for both men and women across the globe, with over 600,000 deaths in the United States alone, according to the CDC. While survival rates are encouraging, the subsequent damage to the heart following a heart attack often leads to eventual heart failure. This is why researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) have developed a new technology devised of tiny biodegradable microrods that can release biologically active peptides with regenerative properties that repair and restore tissue and organ function.

In a study led by Paul Goldspink, PhD and associate professor in physiology at MCW, a team of cardiovascular researchers engineered tiny biodegradable microstructures that match the same size, shape, and stiffness of adult heart muscle cells, known as cardiomyocytes. These microrods were developed in an effort to release peptides that can act as cardioprotective agents that can actively work to regenerate and repair damaged tissue, according to a university press release.

The technology has proven to be particularly useful, given its ability to adapt to various tissue in the body, making it useful in areas outside of the heart as well. Goldspink found that the ability to manipulate the stiffness of the rods makes the technology adaptable, enabling it to be used in therapies across the human body.

"We can tune this system," he said. "We can alter the stiffness of these rods to match the stiffness of the tissue that we want to deliver it to. Some other things we can deliver these small microrods to would be injured or broken bones, and other types of tissues that it could repair and regenerate. We can match the stiffness across the whole range of physical properties of tissue in the body."

Tissue regeneration and engineering is an area of study that continues to pick up pace, as researchers look to advance the understanding of regenerative and reconstructive medicine. Last year researchers from Rice University published a study detailing the understanding of synthetic collagen fibers, and how an advanced understanding of the protein could lead to breakthroughs in tissue regeneration and engineering in the near future.

Collagen also played a role in the development of Goldspink's regenerative microrod technology. He explained that when one experiences serious heart trauma, such as a myocardial infarction, collagen is deposited into the heart and, over time, contributes to the build up of scarred material. This scarred material becomes a problem over time because it keeps the cells within the heart from functioning at optimum levels. Goldspink revealed that the microrod itself is beneficial because they can help limit the amount of collagen deposited into the heart following a heart attack.

"The actual microrod itself imparts benefits, so it's not just a delivery system," he said. "Injections of the rod without anything inside them, with no release of peptides, can help restrict the amount of collagen deposited in the heart. Then, there's the release of the peptide from the rod, so we're affecting the physical and the chemical environment simultaneously with this system."

Given the adaptability of the technology, Goldspink believes the functionality of the system can continue to be enhanced to eventually provide regenerative therapies across the human body.

"There are certainly aspects and facets of the whole system that can be improved and developed upon," he said. "And we're certainly hoping to do so. Everything from different peptides, to different biological molecules that we can load into the system, there's a lot of parameters we can play with."

As for the future of the technology, Goldspink acknowledges that there is still a lot to be discovered when it comes to understanding the various potential applications of the system. He noted that in addition to the benefits of injecting the microrods, he believes the technology can be used as a platform for many different potential therapeutics, and possibly incorporate a device element as well. Although it's early, the future looks bright for this technology.

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at BIOMEDevice Boston, May 6-7, 2015.

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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