Week 16 – Tackling the Coronavirus
Hope you are all doing well and are staying safe. We continue to plug along here. We understand that what we are doing is important and could be helpful if we are successful in executing the plan. Our team is adjusting to a new norm that I believe will not be going away any time soon. I think the time of everyone coming in the office from 9 – 5 is going to change for everyone. For a R&D lab that is also beginning to manufacture a potential diagnostic product, this has been a significant challenge but our group is making it work. The key is to communicate as much as possible since everyone’s schedules are not aligned like a typical day. You do not realize how much we rely on daily interactions. For me, it makes my job that much more difficult since I need to have a good vision of all that is going on, but I am starting to adjust. I have tried to communicate to our group that we are all in this together and we’ll get through it together.
As I mentioned in the last blog, I would like to start by providing you an update on the cell culture insert program we are working on for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To give you a simplified high-level overview, we are making our electrospun materials and attaching them onto plastic dishes. The NIH and potentially other companies will use these dishes to grow different cells from the body. We are hoping to have a press release in the next few weeks to discuss these plates. Stay tuned! Why this is important is that you can then test different drugs or see different responses that the cells undergo to different environments. The NIH is looking to grow different types of tissues such as eye, skin and airway (this is the coronavirus relevant one). One of the benefits of applying our electrospun material onto these dishes is that scientists can make specific body tissue because the material gives the cells a more natural environment to grow on. They are able to visually monitor these cells over time and see effects of their tests. Growing airway tissue would be relevant to evaluating how coronavirus affects the airway and if a target drug could prevent or block virus infection.
When we first started this work, investigators at the NIH were providing us the parameters required from our electrospun material. We would produce the material and then scientists at NIH would go off to test the material. This process led us to obtaining the contract to produce plastic plates with our material. As scientists, we really want to understand how they are using our materials. This led us over the past several weeks to first evaluate how the body’s cells grow on our material and second, can we grow airway cells on our electrospun material to help out the NIH in their task of evaluating coronavirus. Our team
was up to the challenge. On top of continued development of the plastic dishes, we began to grow cells on the electrospun materials to see how the cells responded. After growing three different types of cells, we used specific stains that would allow us to visualize different parts of the cells. The image we are sharing is an image of endothelial cells (cells that normal line your arteries) growing on our material. The blue stain lights up the nucleus (the “brain” of the cell) and the green stain lights up the rest of the body of the cell. Some really cool images! Our team is also racing to grow alveolar and bronchial cells on our materials. These cells comprise the airway. We are looking to do this in conjunction with our partners at NIH. Will let you know how it goes.
For the mask production, we were able to complete initial testing, both at the benchtop and by wearing the device. I also passed our first prototype onto an end-user, my daughter who is an ICU nurse. Since she is wearing masks a lot, she gave me some great feedback right away. She is in the process of wear testing it as I am writing this blog. Once I have this information, we will finalize the design and begin to provide these masks to those who need them. We have already begun to make our Bio-Spun™ electrospun polyester material containing nanosilver onto the nonwoven backing. We will have 12 masks ready to distribute by next week with more materials being produced for the next group of masks. We will post some instructions on how to use the mask that will come with an optional face shield to protect the eyes of people who may be working directly with people. We know that this is not many, but it is a start. We think that every little bit can help.
Please stay safe, keep social distancing and support your local businesses as safely as possible!