Treena Arinzeh, director of NJIT’s Tissue Engineering and Applied Biomaterials Laboratory, has been awarded a grant from the University City Science Center in Philadelphia to help commercialize technology she is developing to reduce the recovery time and cost associated with bone grafts.
Arinzeh received $100,000 from the Science Center’s QED Proof-of-Concept Program, which NJIT is matching, to further develop and deploy a bioactive composite matrix she invented to serve as a bone graft substitute. The matrix is designed to work alone or in combination with a patient’s own bone marrow to repair bone defects.
Roughly half of the million orthopedic procedures performed in the U.S. each year for reconstructive surgery, trauma or abnormal skeletal defects include bone grafting. In addition to a limited supply, current bone grafts and graft substitutes can result in poor bone healing and other adverse effects. Arinzeh’s technology is a unique synthetic matrix that can be used as an autograft extender allowing improved cell attachment, bone ingrowth and bone formation.
The QED program, started in 2009 and now in its 10th round of funding, supports novel university technologies with market potential, bridging the gap between academic research and product commercialization. Arinzeh and two other awardees were selected in this round from a pool of 54 applicants from 12 academic and research institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Each team receives $200,000, half of which will be contributed by the Science Center and half by the researchers’ institutions. This is the first QED award for NJIT.
Grant recipients also receive guidance from the Science Center’s experienced team of scientific and business advisers, who assist the inventor on market opportunity and commercialization strategies. The advisors guide them on both the proposal and the pitch to the QED committee for the funding.
“The QED process has been an invaluable experience,” says Arinzeh. “The most beneficial aspect of the process is working with the business advisers in determining the market opportunity and a strategy toward commercialization. These activities help to define the next steps in developing the technology.”
Arinzeh’s matrix is a fibrous material that contains bioceramics, which aid in accelerating bone repair. It looks like a piece of very thick fabric.
“It’s deformable and can be cut with a pair of surgical scissors for ease of insertion into bone defects,” she explains. “The cells attach readily because it has a fiber structure with a high surface area that allows for cells to stretch across and anchor themselves to the material. It also has a high porosity so bone tissue can grow inside and throughout the matrix.”
“We are excited to have the support of the Science Center QED program, which will help us advance our efforts to commercialize Dr. Arinzeh’s technology that improves the efficiency of bone graft procedures,” says Judith Sheft, associate vice president for technology and enterprise development at NJIT’s New Jersey Innovation Institute. “The QED program provides unique support to academic researchers by combining technical development with a robust exploration of market deployment requirements. This project is the first of what we anticipate will be many collaborations in which we leverage our respective capabilities to bring game-changing technologies to the market.”
The bone matrix technology was originally developed through funding from the National Science Foundation and then the Coulter Foundation, which funds translational studies and allowed Arinzeh to demonstrate proof of concept that the bone matrix could repair bone defects.
Arinzeh’s lab develops functional biomaterials for regenerative medicine applications. Recent discoveries in the tissue-engineering field have shown that the microenvironment can influence stem cell self-renewal and differentiation, which has had a tremendous impact on identifying potential strategies for using these cells effectively in the body. The lab develops functional biomaterials that impart cues to stem cells, either already present within the body or implanted, to affect their behavior. These biological cues stimulate growth in bone and spinal cord tissue, for example.
Her laboratory has pioneered the use of bioactive ceramics and composites for use in bone-tissue engineering. Novel, bioinspired materials such as glycosaminoglycan (GAG) mimetics and piezoelectric materials are being developed as well for bone, cartilage and neural applications. GAG mimetics combine with growth factors to simulate tissue growth and piezoelectric materials provide electrical stimulation to cells. Current funding is from federal, state and private agencies
“Many of our scaffold technologies in the lab consist of fibers; we use the electrospinning technique to produce them. Fibers at the nano- to micron-sized scale enhance cell attachment and tissue growth,” she notes.
The other two QED awardees are developing drugs to address treatment-resistant cancer and advancing research to reverse the invasive potential of cancerous cells, respectively. Maureen Murphy of The Wistar Institute is advancing new treatments for therapy-resistant melanoma by focusing on the mitochondria essential to the growth of cancer cells. Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., of Temple University has discovered a series of new compounds that help rewire gene expression patterns and reverse the invasive potential of cancerous cells.
In addition to the three funded projects, eight additional early-stage life science and health care projects received critical support in developing their proof-of-concept plans. They include NJIT’s Eon Soo Lee, who is developing a nanotechnology-enhanced biochip that would give doctors and patients in a range of healthcare settings the ability to detect deadly diseases such as ovarian cancer and pneumonia early in their progression.
The 11 QED finalists received customized coaching from industry experts, exposure to the investment community and support to develop a commercialization funding roadmap. This support armed the researchers with the knowledge and tools needed to pursue follow-on funding that will help their early-stage projects advance along the commercialization pathway.
Since the program’s inception, QED has screened over 600 proposals from 21 participating academic and research institutions. Of the technologies screened, 105 projects have been accepted into the competitive program. Projects awarded funding by the QED program have raised over $22 million in follow-on funding.
“In the nine years since the program launched, QED has awarded over $6 million to 34 projects,” says Wenyong Wang, Ph.D., MBA, the vice president of science and technology at the University City Science Center. “Among these projects, 10 technologies have been licensed and eight companies have been launched, demonstrating the value of the research taking place in academic labs that is too often left without the resources to commercialize.”
QED has received support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and Wexford Science and Technology.