Biomaterials that release medications at signals frompatient's body

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Biomaterials that release medications at signals frompatient's body

by gender news on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 5:51am

Originally Posted in the Stanford Report on March 18, 2010

Sarah Heilshorn (L.A. Cicero)

Sarah Heilshorn (L.A. Cicero)

Sarah Heilshorn, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new biomaterials using recombinant protein engineering technology that can be used to treat people with spinal cord injuries. Currently, there is no treatment that can lead to complete recovery for people with spinal cord injuries, which commonly occur among young people who go on to live for decades with extreme health complications, a compromised quality of life and immense medical costs. Surgeons can only mitigate the effects of the injury and try to prevent it from worsening over time. Heilshorn and her team are designing a biomaterial with an active release mechanism that would deliver medication in response to signals from the patient's own body, providing the right dose at the right time. "You might want the drug to be delivered faster or slower, depending on how severe the injury was, on the age of the patient, on the patient's activity level and on how quickly the injury may be healing on its own," she said. "We're making our material active, so the drug that is linked to the material only gets released in response to enzymes naturally secreted by the patient's neurons. The enzymes – complex proteins that act as catalysts for biochemical reactions – specifically act on our material to release the drugs we have encapsulated. The biomaterial will slowly degrade away and release the drugs in response to some specific biochemical state of the cells present at the injury site." Heilshorn said the research is in the very early design stages; clinical trials with people are more than a decade away. Heilshorn is a faculty affiliate of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research.