“Nanofiber” is small. A human hair, in fact, is about 200 times bigger in diameter.
Yet the use of nanofibrous tissue scaffolds is a big idea from a Columbus-based start-up that appears to be yielding big results in advancing research in regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, cell culture, stem cells and cancer treatment.
Nanofiber Solutions designs and manufactures three-dimensional products that are more biologically realistic to mirror how cells—healthy and otherwise—behave and grow in the body, says CEO Ross Kayuha.
Among its products are 3-D electrospun polymer scaffolds that mimic the body’s physical structure. “We seed the scaffolds with the patient’s own cells and then plant it in the body,” Kayuha explains. They then grow and differentiate in a culture more successfully.
The technology led to the development of nanofiber-based organs for transplant, the first of its kind globally.
In 2012, two patients in Russia and Sweden received tissue-engineered laryngotracheal implants. Nanofiber Solutions designed and built nanofiber scaffolds matching the size of each patient’s larynx and trachea in order to regenerate the cells for the transplants.
“People are walking around with our tracheas inside them,” says Kayuha. “Because of the work we’re doing with the trachea, it’s very easy to talk with leading researchers all over the world.”
Nanofiber Solutions can customize the scaffolds with different degradable and non-degradable polymers. “We engineer them to do what the surgeon wants them to do,” he says.
The company is now working on a synthetic intestine. It recently received Ohio Third Frontier funding to develop technology for engineering tissue to create intestines. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Gail Besner, the chief of pediatric surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“We’re all really excited about it,” says Besner.
Engineered intestine tissue from scaffolds by Nanofiber Solutions could help treat gastrointestinal conditions such as short bowel, or gut, syndrome, Besner says. “Short gut syndrome is extremely problematic because you can’t get adequate nourishment. You can’t absorb nutrients with part of the intestine missing.”
The intravenous nourishment these patients must rely on “can be fraught with complications,” the doctor says, including the risk of infection. The condition has no cure, so the possibility of developing tissue scaffold that can result in the creation of synthetic intestine holds much promise for revolutionizing treatment of short bowel syndrome for children and adults.
“I think we’re still a few years away—but closer than we’ve ever been,” Besner says.
The tissue-engineered intestine being tested in animals “looks incredibly similar to the native intestine,” she says. Interestingly, the research builds on a growth factor that Besner says she discovered 20 years ago.
She says the collaboration with Nanofiber Solutions involves working with the Ohio State University as tissue engineering research by John Lannutti proceeds. Lannutti and Jed Johnson founded Nanofiber Solutions while working on materials science and engineering research at OSU. Lannutti is with OSU’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center. Johnson was one of his doctoral students.
Along with Kayuha, they lead Nanofiber Solutions. Johnson serves as chief technology officer. Lannutti is chief science officer. Kayuha, who has a business background, met Johnson while mentoring a class at OSU.
Nanofiber Solutions, founded in 2009, has a lab in TechColumbus’s business incubator on Kinnear Road, near OSU’s West Campus.
Funding is critical to these medical advances, Besner says, and companies such as Nanofiber Solutions play a key role in obtaining it. “Biophysics companies help bring the lab to the patient’s bedside.”
Debbie Briner is freelance writer.