This article was originally published in Start Up
The field of tissue engineering has long sought a synthetic version of the extracellular matrix and 3DM Inc. may just have found the ideal synthetic nano-scaffold to fill the void. The company's founders-many of whom come from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-make up a "Who's Who" of biomaterials and tissue engineering.
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Device manufacturers looking to bolster the biocompatibility of their products can now turn to Healionics, a supplier of biomaterial scaffolds designed to improve the biointegration of percutaneous or fully implanted medical devices. The company's STAR technology is a synthetic, three-dimensional matrix, similar to a thin, porous sponge. Because this biomaterial has been precisely engineered with uniform pore sizes to the approximate size of a single cell, the company says that living tissue and new blood vessels actually grow and weave into these pores.
Post-surgical adhesions occur almost any time a surgeon opens up a body cavity; in intra-abdominal surgery, for example, they form 85-90% of the time. But after a decade of trying, the medical device industry has only two adhesion prevention products to show for its efforts, and both products have drawbacks that have limited their market penetration. A new generation of companies--Confluent Surgical, Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, FzioMed, Sentrx Surgical, Afmedica, Kytogenics Pharmaceuticals, and ARC Pharmaceuticals, hope to profit from years of learning in the field to get new and improved products into the hands of surgeons .
In heart failure, companies with expertise in gene or cell biology, or percutaneous delivery devices, see the first application where regenerative medicine could finally realize its promise. The enormous patient population, the high mortality of the disease, and the economics of treating it today provide a multi-billion dollar opportunity for which it's worth braving the complexity of cell therapy for tissue repair. Indeed, first-generation autologous heart cell therapies involve many different types of expertise resident in companies with different mindsets. Unknowns dog every component of the therapies on the level of basic biology. Still to be worked out: the right cell types; the optimal delivery route and device; when and at what dose cells should be administered, and in combination with which genes or drugs. Nevertheless, the great need in heart failure keeps companies dedicated to cardiac regeneration therapies. And as the cell therapy developers reveal new discoveries about the innate regenerative powers of the heart, drug developers are starting to move in, promising a much simpler approach than the combination products presently in the works.