Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 18, 2013
Today’s video and Q&A features our third and last finalist in the 2013 Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) BRIght Futures Prize competition, a research project from Bohdan Pomahac, MD, and Jeffrey Karp, PhD.
Jeffrey Karp, PhD, Division of Biomedical Engineering
What is your research project about?
There have been few recent medical innovations to seal tissues and prevent leaks after surgery. Physicians still use sutures, which are very time-consuming and difficult to place, as well as staples, which can cause tissue damage when inserted and removed. This can result in infection or extreme pain for patients.
Imagine an adhesive that could easily attach to tissue to rapidly seal wounds and connect tissues without severe damage. Suppose this adhesive could also deliver drugs to wounds to prevent infection or speed the process of healing and tissue regeneration. It could provide a completely new way for doctors to treat damaged tissue, including severely burned skin.
Our project will improve how skin regenerates after severe burns. We are developing a micro-needle adhesive that can maintain strong sticking power while minimizing tissue damage. When the micro-needle tips come in contact with wet tissue, they swell and change their shape, interlocking with the tissue. Medication can easily be loaded into the micro-needles in high concentrations, delivering long-term treatment and minimizing side effects.
Our goal is to experiment to maximize effectiveness of the micro-needle adhesive, and to quickly make it available to doctors to improve patients’ quality of life.
What makes your project unique?
We believe that evolution is the best problem-solver, and that solutions to medical problems exist all around us. We just need to look for them.
So to achieve strong sticking power to human tissue, we turned to nature for inspiration. We looked for examples of how creatures in the wild attach themselves securely to their environment. Take, for example, the spiny-headed worm. It can attach to the intestinal wall of its host by inserting its needle-like structure and then swelling it up to stay securely in place. Inspired by this, we created an array of micro-needles with tips that swell into mushroom-like shapes once inserted into tissue.
We have already shown that this technology is much stronger than current methods using staples. Moreover, our adhesive can resist infection and be more easily removed without damage.
How will your research project benefit people?
We believe that our adhesive will improve patient care by reducing pain and complications, as well as speeding up tissue regeneration. Not only will our technology be a model for the next-generation medical adhesive patch that can seal tissues, securely fix skin grafts, and prevent leaks following surgery, it can deliver antibiotics to prevent infection or medicine to accelerate healing and regeneration.
Since we can easily load potentially any type of medicine into the system, the technology can be used to treat localized cancer, such as melanoma, or reduce scarring following surgical procedures. Our technology could replace or enhance sutures or staples for many common medical procedures.
Everyone – BWH faculty, staff, and members of the public – is encouraged to vote for their favorite research project by visiting www.bwhresearchday.partners.org/bff/. Polls are open now and will remain open until 1 p.m. on November 21. The BWH Biomedical Research Institute (BRI) will award a $100,000 philanthropic prize during closing ceremonies at BWH Research Day on November 21 to support the winner’s innovative research.
- Register online to participate in our second annual BWH Research Day.