Week 12 – Imagine
Hope all is going well. I know the title of this week’s blog is sort of cryptic. And for those of you who are more “mature” (a.k.a. older) like me, you are likely thinking of the John Lennon song. For those of you not familiar with the song, the high-level message is to imagine how the world could be if certain things did or did not happen. I would recommend listening to the song if you are not familiar with it. As a scientist, we tend to adhere to that same type of ideal. You look to understand a problem that exists in the world like diabetes, cancer, etc. You then try to develop a concept that could solve the problem and try to imagine all of the different areas you will need to tackle it to bring this concept to reality. You also need to imagine what you would change if it didn’t work the way you wanted it to the first time. If it did work the way you wanted it to, what would be the overall effect to the people it was meant to help and society overall. There are so many examples of this throughout the history of science but none more visible than the scientists who recently developed the technology behind the mRNA vaccine against COVID. I would suspect that they believed it could be beneficial to people, but probably did not envision that it could be responsible for saving the world (maybe a little strong wording, but not too far from it in reality).
I started to think about this in the context of what we are working on. For this blog, I am going to ask you to imagine (probably have not been asked to do this since you were a child) what type of impacts the devices we are working on could have if we can bring them through all of the testing that they will require. This is a big “IF” but for this exercise, we are imagining what could be if we are successful. I am going to focus on our three most advanced opportunities. That doesn’t mean the others are not important, but they are not as close to helping people.
Imagine you have diabetes, liver disease or a long-term (chronic) or rare disease. Making sure you receive a life-saving medicine/biologic agent (i.e. insulin) each and every day are vital to maintaining your health, even possibly keeping you alive. Remembering to take your medicine, making sure that you always have it available and taking the right dosage each day can be challenging especially as you get older. Patient compliance is a significant issue with keeping a person healthy. What if you could use your body to make the medicine you need at levels that treat your illness? What if this “biofactory” device could produce and deliver this medicine into your body for at least one year until you need to replace it, like replacing a cartridge? We are developing a new device called the Bio-Spun™ cell chamber that can hold and protect cells that can produce these types of life-saving medicines/biologic agents at therapeutic levels. These cells are fed by the nutrients your body naturally takes in so they can continue to produce these medicines/biologic agents for a long period of time until it may need to be switched out. You would never need to take medicine/biologic agent again.
Imagine you have kidney or peripheral arterial disease. If you have kidney disease, your kidneys do not function properly and do not have the ability to clear waste from your blood. You will need to get your blood filtered at a dialysis facility by a machine three times a week, every week for the rest of your life. For peripheral arterial disease, your arteries are near clogged or have blocked, preventing blood flow to your extremities (i.e. legs, feet). For both of these diseases, having the ability to replace an artery to allow blood flow to either go around the diseased area or having a tube that can be accessed by a needle in order to transport your blood to and from the dialysis machine is important to maintaining your health and/or not losing one or both of your limbs. What if you could make an off-the-shelf blood vessel that could let blood flow through it, allow needles to be inserted and removed without bleeding and be available for different uses? What if this blood vessel when implanted became like one of your own blood vessels so it would last in your body forever? We are developing a new device called the NuSpun™ Vascular Graft that has a structure similar to the body’s own cell scaffold to allow the body’s cell to grow in, can be punctured by needles and self-seal and can be made to fit different parts of the body.
Imagine you have gastrointestinal disease, have had a baby or have had cancer. You begin to develop small little tracts that form in different areas in your cheeks (and not the ones on your face) that are painful and do not heal well. Additionally, the less invasive options to repair these tracts are extremely limited. The most common option is surgical repair, which has some significant complications such as incontinence and reoccurrence of tract formation. What if there was an off-the-shelf option that could be easily placed into the tract and heal the tract without the need for invasive surgery? What if you could incorporate a drug into the device to prevent any complications such as infection or pain? We are developing a new device called the Bio-Spun™ Fistula Plug that, similar to our NuSpun™ Vascular Graft, has a structure similar to the body’s own cell scaffold to allow the body’s cells to grow in. Specific drugs could also be incorporated into the device to deliver the therapeutic agent locally to the tract to make sure there are no issues for the person.
While you need to use your imagination for these scenarios, sadly many people live with these issues on a daily basis. We will continue to dream until what we are developing can truly help someone someday and maybe even change the world a little bit. I think the final verse in “Imagine” song says it all:
“You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will live as one”
We’ll see you back here on July 2nd.