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Technology Tricks Body into Healing

by Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed., October 29, 2019

It is sometimes said that you can fool the mind, but not the body. But Wellington Hsu, M.D., the Clifford C. Raisbeck, M.D., Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine, is indeed aiming to trick the body.

“We are in the process of developing a novel technology that can replace autograft. In conjunction with my wife, Erin L. Hsu, Ph.D., our bone biology lab, working in collaboration with biomaterial naonscientists from the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center at Northwestern, is focusing on a new platform to facilitate the healing response.”

With over 629,000 square feet of space, the recently opened home of the Simpson Querrey Institute is the largest biomedical research building in the world. Dr. Hsu, “I am fortunate to work with Samuel Stupp, Ph.D., the director of the Simpson Querrey, who initially developed this technology and has continued to refine the handling properties.”

Providing details, Dr. Hsu notes, “Our process of molecular signaling allows the body to respond and amplify the healing response in bone regeneration, however, this platform can also be used for nerve and cartilage regeneration.”

“The technology involves small molecules that come together to form nanofibers that can serve as long, microscopic tubes. The outer rim can be coated with epitopes, which serve as binding sites for proteins such as bone morphogenetic protein (BMP). These signals can amplify the body’s response to bind to existing proteins in the area thereby eliminating the need for growth factors from products such as Infuse or demineralized bone matrix, rendering the healing process more physiological. This technology can ‘trick’ the body into mobilizing proteins that have already been produced into one confined location.”

These molecules, says Dr. Hsu, are known as amphiphiles, and they amplify body’s responses. Dr. Hsu: “These nanofibers can be very long which can fill the space needed to travel the length of the spine. There is a longstanding issue in spine as to how to form bone in that gap, but we think this is a valid way to help bridge the gap.”

Now in front of the FDA, Dr. Hsu and his team have completed promising preclinical data in rats, rabbits, and pigs. “Once we obtain initial FDA approval, we will immediately begin the planning and inception phases for clinical studies. It has been very rewarding to see technological advances such as this get initially tested on the bench, then in animals, and finally with human applications. It is only through the collaborative spirit made possible by organizations such as the Simpson Querrey Institute that allow for the efficient development of novel devices that can be applied to my patients who suffer from spinal disease.”

Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President and CEO of Ortho Spine Partners and sits on several company and industry related Boards. He also is the Creator and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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