Scaffolds in Tissue Engineering
This article was originally published in Start Up
Stem-cell-related strategies may predominate these days in tissue engineering, but cell therapy companies know that providing the right microenvironment for nurturing tissue growth remains a difficult and essential challenge. Thus, start-ups remain committed to the developent of cellular matrices that provide the appropriate structure, environment, and bioactivity to encourage tissue growth. The four start-ups profiled in this issue represent a cross-section of strategies.
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If there's one word that ought to sum up the goal of cell therapy today, it's sustainability. Certainly that's the hope of using living cells to restore health and function to diseased tissues so that they perform as the body intended them to. But more to the point, in today's tough financing environment for venture-capital-backed start-ups, sustainability is the watchword for companies facing 15- to 20-year development curves. Tissue-engineered three-dimensional organs are complex, decades-long projects. Embryonic stem cells are much simpler in concept but are far from a commercial reality. Between those two extremes of tissue-engineering, however, there exist some well-defined opportunities, notably in the treatment of blood vessel disease. Start-ups Pervasis and Cytograft are gaining clinical validation in those areas.
Technologies for total joint repair, the backbone of the orthopedics industry, have occupied most of the development resources of orthopedic companies, but there are gaps in the continuum of care when it comes to tendon and ligament repair. ACL reconstruction and rotator cuff repair thus are attractive niches for start-ups, worth anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion. Soft tissue repair expertise is outside the core skill-sets of big ortho, but those companies have been willing to partner and acquire smaller innovative players. Today, the opportunity is even more attractive; sports medicine--the realm of soft tissue repair--enjoys an economic resiliency not seen in total joint replacement. Ligament tears more closely resemble trauma applications, which must be treated as soon as possible.
Tissue Regenix is developing what it describes as "de-cellularized biological scaffolds," which are meant to function like native tissue. Tissue Regenix uses tissue taken from pigs or cows as its starting material, then carefully strips out cells, leaving behind a complex matrix of proteins such as collagen and elastin. Once this matrix is implanted, the body's own cells go into it and encourage cell recruitment and tissue formation.