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Week 21 – When Your Digestive System Goes Rogue

As I mentioned in our last blog, I want to provide you an update on what we are working on with the great folks at Takeda. Probably not the best topic for the morning as you are settling in for breakfast. Unlike the NuSpun Vascular Graft that focuses on patients with kidney disease, the devices we are working on for Takeda focus on gastrointestinal disease. You may be asking, “What is gastrointestinal disease?” and “Why is Takeda, a pharmaceutical giant, looking at electrospun materials?” so I’ll look to answer these for you. As a disclaimer up front, I cannot get into specifics (i.e. what the device looks like or data) as to what devices we are developing with Takeda. I can provide you a high level view of what we are working on. The reason for this is that we are submitting patents to protect our new discoveries and telling you prior to submitting the information to the government would be what is called public disclosure which would limit our protection so as much as I like you, this is not going to happen.

For most of us, Friday night brings on going out with friends/family for a meal and some adult beverages. Besides the “side effects” of having too many adult beverages, ever thing else is relatively normal. The food you ate goes through your gastrointestinal tract, which simply put is the path from the stomach through the small and large intestines through the rectum and out the anus. During this trip, the good stuff that food provides (i.e. nutrients, water, salt, minerals) get removed and the waste from this food is sent out. For most of us, this process happens without a hitch. The cells that cover the intestines are really important for making this process non-eventful. That is unless you have issues with the cell lining. Most of us have heard of or know people with diverticulitis, which is a condition in which cells that line the intestines are irritated/inflamed. Most of the time, this can be treated with antibiotics and diet change but for patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (and severe diverticulitis), this is a continuing problem that significantly effects their quality of life. These conditions can result in long-term abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition, potentially resulting in surgical intervention.

In addition to these conditions, other complications can occur as a result of these diseases. Another complication of these diseases can be the formation of small tracts (tunnels) from the rectal area through the buttocks, also called perianal fistulas. Truth be told, I never knew that this existed but the more we became involved in this space, the more we realized that many people have a perianal fistula. Sadly, it is a complication that is not talked about, likely due to worry of disclosing this issue. Likely you know someone who has this complication or know someone who does. Current treatment of perianal fistulas can result in complications, with the most significant being incontinence (inability to control bowel functions).

There are various methods to treat these diseases, from medicine to surgery. These treatments have positive and negative attributes. For medicine, there are side-effects from the drugs that can be as bad as the ones from the disease itself. Additionally, patient compliance for taking the medicines on a regular basis is an issue. For surgical intervention, surgery to remove the diseased area does not always prevent re-occurrence in the surrounding tissue. Additionally, there are potential issues with infection, long-recovery time and increasing potential for side effects such as perianal fistulas.

This is where BioSurfaces comes in. We are developing new technologies using our electrospinning process to treat various aspects of gastrointestinal disease. We are focused on three specific areas within this space. Let’s start with treating perianal fistulas. We have developed a new prototype electrospun device (plug) that will be placed into the fistula tract in order to allow the body’s cells to grow into the device and seal up the tract. We have done benchtop and initial preclinical testing of the device, with initial results looking promising. For the diseased intestine, we are developing materials that can locally deliver specific drugs right to the cells in the area, potentially removing the side-effects from orally taking these medicines. Again, we’ve done initial benchtop and preclinical testing which show promise. Lastly, we are also developing a device that, once implanted, would be able to consistently deliver therapeutic levels of a drug over a long period of time. This would replace the patient having to take the specific drug by mouth or injection. This device would be a revolutionary way to deliver medicine. This is still in its early stages and has a way to go, but initial data has been encouraging.

Once our data has been submitted to the patent office, I will be sure to share the information related to each device. Being a scientist, this is not easy but such is life.

Have a great weekend!


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