A team led by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Kacey Marra, PhD, associate professor of plastic surgery and bioengineering and the Laboratory Director for the Plastic Surgery Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, is about to launch an intensive, 6-month translational research effort to develop a commercialization strategy for a novel nerve regeneration treatment, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps).
The $50,000 grant will enable the research team from Pitt's McGowan Institute and Swanson School of Engineering's Department of Bioengineering to develop a business model for an effective long-gap peripheral nerve repair system with the potential to successfully repair conditions from diabetic neuropathy to battlefield wounds.
The NSF I-Corps program is a highly selective, year-old program and this marks the University's first I-Corps grant. Because the grant will help to develop the translational and commercialization aspects of the technology, the Pitt team is distinctively structured with an entrepreneurial component to match the NSF goals. Previous funding for this research had been provided by the NSF, the American Association of Hand Surgeons, and the Department of Defense.
Founded in 2012, the Department of Plastic Surgery at Pitt's School of Medicine builds upon the University's cutting-edge research and technology, which has advanced clinical areas such as hand and face transplantation, nerve regeneration, and wound healing.
Yen-chih Lin, PhD, serves as Entrepreneurial Lead and has worked in the Marra Laboratory for several years, and has extensive experience in nerve guide fabrication, microsphere fabrication for drug delivery, rat sciatic nerve defect models, non-human primate median nerve defect models, and histological analysis.
The Industrial Mentor is Pratap Khanwilkar, PhD, MBA, Coulter Program Director and professor in the Swanson School of Engineering's Department of Bioengineering, and Executive-In-Residence with the University's Office of Technology Management. He has extensive experience in translating research into companies, having obtained seven patents and started six companies, with three operating and generating revenue. One start-up which Dr. Khanwilkar led as founder and CEO for 12 years evolved to a publicly-traded company.
"Nerve repair has improved over the past decade, but one of our challenges remains the regeneration of peripheral nerves over gaps greater than 3 centimeters," Dr. Marra explains. "Although a seemingly small distance, this represents a chasm that prevents effective treatment of many severed nerve conditions. Our translational research will lead to the development of a commercialization pathway of a biodegradable nerve guide to promote both motor and sensory nerve repair over these long gaps, and for potentially other applications of our proprietary technology."
"Thanks to the NSF I-Corps grant, we'll be able to push our decade-long research toward a viable drug-delivery system and thereby address a serious unmet need for clinical care of diseased and damaged nerve tissue."
The team's research has advanced from small animal testing and is now being evaluated in larger animals as a precursor to human clinical trials, which Dr. Marra expects within 2 years.