New composite material may restore damaged soft tissue

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Potential uses include facial reconstruction for soldiers’ blast injuries

Biomedical engineers at Johns Hopkins have developed a new liquid material that in early experiments in rats and humans shows promise inrestoring damaged soft tissue relatively safely and durably. The material, a composite of biological and synthetic molecules, is injected under the skin, then “set” using light to form a more solid structure, like using cold to set gelatin in a mold. The researchers say the product one day could be used to reconstruct soldiers’ faces marred by blast injuries.

The Johns Hopkins researchers caution that the material, described in a report in the July 27 issue of Science Translational Medicine, is “promising,” but not yet ready for widespread clinical use.

Implanted biological materials can mimic the texture of soft tissue, but are usually broken down by the body too fast, while synthetic materials tend to be more permanent but can be rejected by the immune system and typically don’t meld well with surrounding natural tissue,” says Jennifer Elisseeff, Ph.D., Jules Stein Professor of Ophthalmology and director of the Translational Tissue Engineering Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Our composite material has the best of both worlds, with the biological component enhancing compatibility with the body and the synthetic component contributing to durability.”

The researchers created their composite material from hyaluronic acid (HA), a natural component in skin of young people that confers elasticity, and polyethylene glycol (PEG), a synthetic molecule used successfully as surgical glue in operations and known not to cause severe immune reactions. [Read more…]

Interview with Jennifer Elisseeff

Jennifer Elisseeff, the director of the new Translational Tissue Engineering Center, is a biomedical engineer who holds an endowed chair in the Department of Ophthalmology, where she is helping to develop an artificial cornea. Tissue engineering, she says, is taking place at the juncture of several scientific disciplines.

What’s been the history of tissue engineering—how far have labs and companies gotten in producing therapeutic applications?

ELISSEEFF: In the early 1990s, there was a lot of growth. There was talk of making an ear, a heart in a dish. But it fizzled. A lot of companies went under. [Read more…]

Elisseeff lab move

Our lab moved to the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Building of the Wilmer Eye Institute! We look forward to seeing you at our new location. [Read more…]