The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has been awarded a $5.6 million grant to advance technology with the potential to regenerate bones. The funding from the U.S. Department of Defense goes toward work on an implantable medical device known as NuCress scaffold, which has been in development since 2006.
It holds the promise of helping people with what have been considered untreatable injuries experience bone regeneration in places where parts of a bone are missing. In particular, researchers say it could help people avoid having limbs amputated because of injuries.
The project has brought together an interdisciplinary team led by principal investigator Dr. Alex Biris, director and chief scientist at UA Little Rock’s Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences. He is working with partners at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Biris spoke about the grant-funded project with KUAR’s Michael Hibblen.
MICHAEL HIBBLEN: First, tell me about the research that you’ve been doing. This has been a decade in the making.
DR. ALEX BIRIS: Yes, we have been working under Department of Defense funding to develop a technology that can be used for regeneration of large segments of bone defects, or basically regenerate bone over relatively large volumes. This was a project that developed in partnership with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville under the leadership of Dr. David Anderson and more recently with UAMS with Dr. Mark Smeltzer and his group.
HIBBLEN: And this involves a technology, a medical device known as NuCress scaffolding. What is this?
BIRIS: Yes, we actually came up with this name and this is a scaffold basically, a very complex nanocomposite that allows for cells to infiltrate and for the tissue to regrow and over time the actual scaffold biodegrades and then goes away leaving behind nothing but healthy bone tissue.
HIBBLEN: What’s the uses for this?
BIRIS: We do foresee many potential uses. You can actually look at the trauma patients, basically people that lose a bone because of a trauma or because of a disease and in order to regain the function, the new tissue has to be regenerated. So that’s where we come in with our technology and with scaffold, with NuCress, the area that has to be regenerated and over time the new tissue forms while the scaffold biodegrades and basically is gone.
HIBBLEN: And is the Department of Defense interested in this to treat people in the military?
BIRIS: You can probably understand the need to develop such technologies, but in particular for our military servicepeople that actually could get wounded and therefore such a technology… we envision that down the road could actually save limbs and be a solution to amputation.
HIBBLEN: And this grant will help advance the growth of this [technology]. Where are you in the actually development of this?
BIRIS: We have been working the last 10 years in partnership with Dr. Anderson and some others and we have actually developed several very advanced ways to manufacture it. We have tested it and what the new grant will allow us to do is to actually try to transition to good manufacture practices type of fabrication, validate that manufacturing process, and validate the sterilization. So it will allow us to take the technology one step, actually multi-steps forward in terms of the development and eventually interact with the Food and Drug Administration to obtain the approvals for the use in people.
HIBBLEN: Well it sounds fascinating, congratulations on the grant.
BIRIS: It’s congratulations to our team actually. We have a phenomenal team, so that’s what’s really important and makes this work fun.
KUAR is licensed to the University of Arkansas System.