Imagining New Ways to Heal Bone Fractures and Speed Recovery:
An Interview with Omid Farokhzad, MD, and Morteza Mahmoudi, MD
Earlier this year, Omid Farokhzad, MD, and Morteza Mahmoudi, MD, received renewed support through the Stepping Strong Innovator Awards for a new phase of research that seeks to reduce bacterial infection in bone healing. In this interview, the scientists describe their project’s exciting progress and goals.
Q: What is the specific innovation that you are developing?
A: Thanks to continued generosity from the Stepping Strong Innovator Awards, we now have funding to research bone and tissue repair with a focus on bacterial infection and bone growth in patients who have suffered large bone fractures.
Our innovation is to maximize the bone regeneration process while minimizing bacterial infection risk. To do this, we use a nanoextrusion approach to make therapeutic nanofibers. We think of it like a funnel into which we combine biopolymers, therapeutic biomolecules with bone healing capacity, and iron oxide nanoparticles, which activate the person’s natural immune system to fight possible bacterial infection.
Known as a scaffold, this regenerative package will be fixed into the fracture area through surgery. Our technology may enable various biomolecules to be released at different times, which can maximize the regenerative package’s healing capacity. We have also applied similar technology to wound healing and cardiac regeneration.
Q: What have the last few months of research revealed?
A: We have been working on development of such a regenerative package for various organs for the last seven years, so our recent work is simply a continuation of our long journey. We have adapted our experiences in wound healing and cardiac regeneration to bone regeneration and the physical, mechanical, and biological properties associated with it.
Right now, we are optimizing the physicochemical properties of our scaffold and plan to evaluate it in an animal model, in collaboration with Dr. Ara Nazarian’s group at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Also, we closely work with Dr. Mitch Harris at Massachusetts General Hospital to see how we will fit our scaffold into a patient’s bone fracture site. The scaffolds’ shapes are very flexible, so the surgeon can easily play with them to fill the bone gaps.
Q: So, your approach is faster, with less infection?
A: Absolutely. This is our central goal. The technology and approach could significantly speed up the regeneration of bone breaks and fractures, and reduce infection through the nanoparticles. You get quicker regeneration and less healing time. We cannot predict where in the healing process the possible infectious site gets an opportunity to grow, which is why it’s important to have the immune activation nanoparticles to keep the immune system armed and ready.
And because these nanoparticles are already FDA-approved for treating iron deficiency, they’re immediately available for us to apply for this new application.
Q: What is the path to commercialization?
A: We remain focused on getting the science correct and proving that this approach can indeed minimize the infection risk while quickening the rate at which bones heal and regenerate. Our research will evolve into therapeutic products that must be approved by the appropriate federal agencies. While we are doing this, we are filing for patents and publishing our results in academic journals.
Building on our strong record of commercialization, we have an ambitious goal of reaching patients within five years.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Our biggest challenge is raising additional funds for our research. It’s a very multi-disciplinary subject that requires different teams to be involved. The Stepping Strong Innovator Award funding is a tremendous first step, as it supported a pilot project and early in-vivo testing. We are actively looking for additional funding resources.
Q: What will you focus on over the next year and beyond?
A: Over the next year, we will continue testing our research, with a focus on optimizing the scaffolds for safe and fast regeneration in the clinical stage. We believe in what we do: trying to play a small role in current efforts to develop technologies that treat diseases. Like other researchers in the field, we have a goal to enhance patients’ quality of life. None of these goals would be in view without the critical early support of The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation.