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Can We Manufacture Synthetic Human Tissue That Can Regrow the Real Thing?

Get to know LifeSprout, one of the inaugural Thalheimer Fund recipients
Posted June 9, 2016

The team behind LifeSprout received one of the three inaugural Thalheimer Fund grants from Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

What:

LifeSprout Tissue Regenerative Matrix (TRM), a synthetic, three-dimensional tissue replacement product that can be used to fill in acquired and congenital soft tissue defects in patients

Why:

Cancer patients and wounded soldiers are just two examples of patients who must undergo surgeries to repair damaged — or missing — soft tissues. These tissues, which include skin, fat, and muscle, are critical to the body's shape and function. Current reconstructive surgery procedures involve harvesting tissue from one part of the body to replace what is missing. But these surgeries can result in complications, and the use of current synthetic tissue products can cause inflammation and scarring. LifeSprout TRM intends to supplement or replace these options with an off-the-shelf solution that immediately replaces missing volume while encouraging tissue ingrowth over time.

How it works:

LifeSprout TRM is an injectable, biodegradable composite of nanofibers suspended in and linked to a hydrogel network. When injected into an area of a tissue defect, the TRM provides a three-dimensional framework that promotes the ingrowth of host cells, leading to lasting restoration after the nanofibers and hydrogel have slowly disintegrated. "The material we chose is critical," says Hai-Quan Mao, a professor of materials science and engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering. "The polymers used to prepare nanofibers are the same as those used in surgical sutures, and the hydrogel has been used in a popular dermal filler — so there's a long track record of tissue compatibility and clinical use of these materials."

Who:

Mao, who also serves as an associate director of the Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology; Justin Sacks, MD, director of oncological reconstruction and an assistant professor in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, School of Medicine; Sashank Reddy; MD, PhD, A&S '00, a resident in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, School of Medicine; Russell Martin, PhD (Engr '15), a postdoctoral fellow in the Whiting School's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

What’s next:

LifeSprout TRM is a prototype that has been successful in limited testing so far, "but the critical test for a viable product is to demonstrate that it works in patients," says Reddy. The Thalheimer Fund grant will help the team take LifeSprout TRM from the prototype stage to clinical-grade manufacturing, paving the way for biocompatibility and safety studies — key steps toward securing FDA approval.