UW Bioengineers, led by Dr. Deok-Ho Kim, designed a polymer-based hydrogel with nanoscale grooves and ridges (shown in this scanning electron microscope image) for growing heart cells. The nano-grooved surface causes immature human heart cells to organize and mature into a layer of human heart tissue useful for testing toxic effects of drugs.
To help develop the nano-groove surface technology and move it toward clinical impact faster, Dr. Kim and some of his team members recently incorporated a startup company, NanoSurface Biomedical, on March 2. “Our technology is very cost-effective, scalable and robust,” says co-founder Dr. Kim. “The Coulter grant allowed us to keep making progress for commercialization. Our Coulter and CoMotion advisers helped a lot because we met regularly to discuss the best commercialization path and strategy, business advice and how to make our intellectual property [IP] stronger. Most other NSF and NIH grants don’t have this kind of requirement and support, so the Coulter support was critical at that stage of our IP generation.”
The team also is developing a related technology in which they layer a heat-sensitive chemical coating on top of the nano-patterned surface. Manipulating the temperature allows the researchers to detach and stack sheets of cells grown on these surfaces, providing a non-invasive way to make scaffold-free, 3D complex human heart tissue for further study.
“The hope is to accurately identify which drugs are safe early on during development, and ensure that those compounds that progress to more costly clinical trials have the best possible chance of achieving FDA approval,” says Dr. Alec Smith, a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Kim’s lab, who also serves as the acting Chief Scientific Officer of NanoSurface Biomedical. “We also hope to rescue some abandoned compounds that failed to pass conventional screening assays by demonstrating their safety in mature human cardiac cells,” he says.
Article by Lia Unrau