Orthopedic bone graft surgery involves the use of rods, plates, pins, putty, wires, screws and external fixation devices. For patients, these procedures — of which over 600,000 are done annually in the U.S. — pose surgical risks and often require extended hospitalization, immobilization and physical therapy.
For the surgical team, “you’re trying to put together a jigsaw table on the operating table,” says Joseph W. Freeman, a Rutgers University biomedical engineer and co-founder of Regennera Therapeutics.
His Philadelphia-based startup has a better idea.
Using an alchemy of salt, minerals, stem cells, nano fibers, polymers, gelatin and collagen, Freeman and his team are developing an all-in-one fracture repair device — a columnar, load-bearing, synthetic “scaffold” that regenerates healthy bone, ligaments, muscles, cartilage and blood vessels.
As Freeman explained at an appearance at the University City Science Center’s Quorum, the benefits are myriad. The scaffolds can be customized for the individual patient. They eliminate the need for lifelong metal implants. They greatly simplify surgery, minimizing the risk of complications and infection and, in the long term, muscle atrophy and arthritis.
Besides being weight bearing, Regennera’s devices mimic both trabeculae and cortical bone (both are critical for proper bone regrowth). With help from blood vessels derived from stem cells, they build new bone with compressive strength that meets or exceeds native bone.
Freeman and CEO Russ Secter launched Regennera last June and joined the Science Center’s Phase 1 Ventures program a few months later.
“The Science Center location provides great access to top notch local scientists, clinicians, and medical institutions,” says Secter. “There is a tremendous local entrepreneur environment with which to network.”
The potential market for Regennera is huge: Those 600,000 annual bone graft procedures create a $2.5 billion market. What’s more, active seniors are causing those numbers to rise about three percent per year.
The young company is now working on improving its fabrication techniques and beginning small animal studies. Freeman says it could be 10 years before the devices are fully tested and commercialized.
ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.
WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center, Keystone Edge and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at Quorum, the Science Center’s clubhouse for entrepreneurs at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.