Using nanomaterials for tissue regeneration: Where academia meets commerce

Oct 18, 2012 by Angela Herring

Thomas Web­ster, the new chair of the Depart­ment of Chem­ical Engi­neering, keeps a tita­nium hip implant on his desk. "If you look at bone or any nat­ural tissue in the body, it's com­posed of nano­ma­te­rials," he said. "But if you look at what we're implanting today"—he pointed to the tita­nium hip—"it's not nano."

The syn­thetic mate­rials used as replace­ment tis­sues today are typ­i­cally com­posed of mil­limeter or micron sized par­ti­cles. While are on the micron scale, the mate­rials they con­sist of, pro­teins included, are much smaller.

Webster's team has cre­ated implants for bone, vas­cular and neural set­tings using nanopar­ti­cles instead. "No matter what we've looked at so far, we're able to increase and make that implant last longer in the body than what the field is cur­rently using," he said.

The expla­na­tion for their suc­cess is simple: they're cre­ating an envi­ron­ment that is sim­ilar to what the cells are used to. "Cells rec­og­nize these nano­ma­te­rials as more friendly," Web­ster explained. "More like the tis­sues that they them­selves created."

For one project, Webster's team is using highly con­duc­tive carbon nan­otubes com­bined with an injectable, bio-​​compatible polymer to repair car­diac tissue after heart attacks. "Car­diomy­ocytes"—or —"will 'crawl' onto this heart patch faster," he said. "They will grow and they will beat faster than when other mate­rials are used in this way."

The research team has also used nano­ma­te­rials to improve neural regen­er­a­tion in , com­bining carbon nan­otubes with . Sur­pris­ingly, the nan­otubes alone work better than stem cells alone, but the com­bi­na­tion of the two works best of all.

Having taken his work to sev­eral start-​​up com­pa­nies, Web­ster is a keen pro­po­nent of industry part­ner­ships. As a chair, he hopes to explore col­lab­o­ra­tions between fac­ulty and industry to a greater extent.

"We have this great expe­ri­en­tial learning pro­gram here at North­eastern," he said. "We need to extend that into the research area."
Web­ster has already invited rep­re­sen­ta­tives of sev­eral com­mer­cial orga­ni­za­tions to listen to fac­ulty pre­sen­ta­tions of their research, and then brain­storm ways of improving col­lab­o­ra­tion through cen­ters or spin-​​offs.

While the age-​​old stan­dard has been to draw a line between acad­emia and com­merce, that model is rapidly changing. "I think we've got to make that line blurry because there's a lot that can be learned both ways," Web­ster said. "We need to help industry and industry needs to help us."

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SoylentGrin
not rated yet Oct 18, 2012
"Well, your checkup is fine, but your cardiac cells report that they're CardioStruct™ ver 3.7.2. There's an upgrade now. Nothing major, just a small tweak to adrenal response time."