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Hopkins startup, LifeSprout, offers soft tissue reconstruction alternative

Thalheimer, Cohen Funds catapult innovations to the marketplace
Posted November 4, 2016

LifeSprout Co-Founders Hai-Quan Mao, Russell Martin, and Sashank Reddy discuss the production process.

Patient Kundry Grove hugs her surgeon and LifeSprout Co-Founder Justin Sacks. Patient Kundry Grove hugs her surgeon and LifeSprout Co-Founder Justin Sacks.

Shortening the typical 17 years needed to translate a discovery into widely used innovative products is one significant impact of support from the Louis B. Thalheimer Fund for Translational Research and the Cohen Translational Engineering Fund.

"Thanks to the support of the Louis B. Thalheimer Fund, the Cohen Fund, and Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, providing both support and expertise, my co-founders and I at LifeSprout are hoping to take our technology to clinical practice in only a few years," says Sashank Reddy, MD, PhD, A&S '00, who is a resident in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

LifeSprout – a startup formed by Reddy and three other Johns Hopkins engineers, scientists and clinicians – has developed a soft tissue replacement alternative that will benefit cancer and trauma patients and others cosmetically.

A composite of hydrogel and suture-like, biodegradable nanofibers, the injectable product is cell-permeable, holding the volume of the space until new tissue grows in. The product then dissolves, explain Hai-Quan Mao, PhD, Whiting School Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Russell Martin, PhD (Engr '15), who are both also LifeSprout co-founders.

"So, our tissue regenerate matrix works as a scaffold," says Justin Sacks, MD, MBA, FACS, director of Oncological Reconstruction and LifeSprout co-founder. He explains that today for patients, like breast cancer survivors who have had mastectomies, state-of-the-art reconstruction requires taking soft tissue from another part of the body, causing a lot of pain and suffering.

This product will "allow me to put people back together without causing trauma or injury to them," Sacks says, "and affect not one, but thousands or millions of patients. I can't imagine a better path to be on."

Patient Kundry Grove, who has already been through reconstruction and thanks Sacks and his team for making her "feel very whole and very strong again," adds that she's excited that if her daughters should ever require similar treatment, this product could help revolutionize their care.

LifeSprout is one of the first recipients of seed money from the Thalheimer Fund, which is administered by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures and supports proof-of-concept, prototype, and commercial viability studies needed to catapult innovations from the lab out into the world.

LifeSprout also benefitted from support by the Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Award and the Maryland Innovation Initiative.