Join Karen Christman in her quest to revolutionise regenerative medicine. Through innovative biomaterial therapies, she’s breaking down barriers of cost and invasiveness. Explore how her work is reshaping the landscape of regenerative medicine, offering minimally invasive solutions for a wide range of injuries and diseases.
Which wall does your research break?
We are breaking the wall to cost-effective, minimally-invasive regenerative medicine. Traditional regenerative medicine approaches like cell, gene, or growth factor therapy are very costly, which would limit widespread adoption. Biomaterials are emerging as a more cost-effective solution, but have previously required direct implantation or injection into tissue, which limits tissue access and distribution, and often requires more invasive procedures. We developed the first pro-regenerative biomaterial therapy that can be delivered via simple infusion into the bloodstream to target the microvasculature of injured or inflamed tissues, reduce vascular permeability, mitigate inflammation, and promote cell survival and tissue regeneration. This is a new paradigm for regenerative medicine, which can be applied to a wide range of injuries and diseases where there is inflammation and endothelial cell dysfunction. Efficacy has recently been shown in preclinical models of myocardial infarction, multi-organ failure, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and traumatic brain injury with many more potential indications. Therefore, this new technology has the potential to be a platform therapeutic for minimally invasive regenerative medicine. Manufacturing of biomaterials is more cost-effective than other regenerative medicine approaches, often by at least an order of magnitude, which could allow greater access for the millions of patients worldwide that are in need of a regenerative therapy.
What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?
One of our overarching goals is the development of minimally invasive, cost-effective regenerative medicine therapies, and thus we have focused on acellular biomaterials-based approaches, which are more cost-effective. We previously developed a pro-regenerative injectable hydrogel for treating the heart after myocardial infarction that was tested in a Phase I clinical trial. While initial results are promising, the material must be injected with a needle into the heart, which prevents treating a patient immediately after their heart attack because of the heightened risk of arrythmias and potential for rupture of the heart wall when inserting the needle. However, the ideal time to deliver a regenerative therapy would be immediately after a heart attack to prevent further damage to the heart. In addition, to perform needle-based injections minimally invasively in the heart requires the use of a specialized catheter that is not routinely used by interventional cardiologists and requires specialized training. Because of these limitations and our experience in translating the first material, it motivated us to develop our new technology, an infusible extracellular matrix-based biomaterial, that can be delivered via intracoronary infusion at the time of angioplasty and stent placement. The delivery technique uses the same catheter that interventional cardiologists use for angioplasty and can therefore be easily adopted into the current clinical workflow for myocardial infarction patients. It can also be delivered shortly after a patient arrives at the hospital to prevent further damage to the heart, thereby improving cardiac function. Our preclinical studies showed that this unique material targets inflamed, leaky blood vessels, and reduces vascular permeability and inflammation that are known to cause tissue damage and death. This finding opened up this technology to numerous other diseases and injuries where there is inflammation and leaky blood vessels. We have also shown that it can be delivered via a simple intravenous infusion and still target tissues with inflammation, thereby breaking the wall to a true minimally invasive, cost-effective regenerative medicine therapy.
In what ways does society benefit from your research?
Myocardial infarction alone afflicts millions of patients each year worldwide. There are numerous other indications such as traumatic brain injury, multi-organ failure, and pulmonary artery hypertension to name a few that could benefit from a pro-regenerative, anti-inflammatory, and pro-survival therapy. Currently these conditions do not have sufficient treatments, and existing regenerative medicine strategies are invasive and/or very costly. In the case of acute conditions such as myocardial infarction, multi-organ failure and traumatic brain injury, patients could be treated by a one-time intravenous delivery of our infusible extracellular matrix biomaterial therapy to minimize tissue damage and promote healing, thereby significantly improving patient quality of life and outcomes with a simple, easy to deploy, and more economical therapy. Since the biomaterial can be stored frozen and rehydrated immediately prior to use, it enables an on demand regenerative therapy for physicians and their patients without the need to wait for cell expansion or concerns over cell viability and high cost. It also does not require any specialized training or techniques for delivery. Given the high healthcare costs for such medical conditions, this technology could not only improve patients’ lives but also lead to significant reduction in healthcare costs over the lifetime of these patients.
Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?
Our near-term goal is to initiate a clinical trial with this new technology in myocardial infarction patients, and then expand into other clinical indications. Our hope is that this can become a first of its kind biomaterial based regenerative medicine product that can be delivered via simple intravenous infusion to treat a multitude of conditions.