Imagine all the wonderful things you could accomplish with a thread roughly the width of a human hair, and you’ll probably come up with a short list, if anything. Well, WPI associate professor of biomedical engineering George Pins used collagen, fibrin, and other biologic materials to develop a microthread capable of an array of medical applications. These biopolymer microthreads began as a way to repair torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in the knee, but have been adapted to act as scaffolds for wound healing and skeletal muscle regeneration, as well as deliver stem cells to regenerate cardiac muscle damaged during a heart attack.
Pins partnered up with WPI associate professor of biomedical engineering Glenn Gaudette to found a company called VitaThreads LLC. VitaThreads will build on the pioneering research of its founders in order to commercialize these microthread technologies, and while the company plans on developing the microthreads for a range of human clinical needs, its first commercial product will be used to deliver stem cells for the veterinary market. “Stem cell therapies are still in the research and development phase for humans,” says CEO Harry Wotton ’94, “but they are a reality today in animal medicine.” Wotton, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s in biomedical engineering at WPI, notes that thousands of dogs and horses with torn ligaments and connective tissues are healed every year through stem cell injections, and said the new microthread technologies will make for more efficient delivery of those cells. A new computer-controlled extruder designed and built in Gaudette’s lab will speed up microthread production to meet anticipated demands.
VitaThreads is Wotton’s second start-up venture based on technologies developed at WPI, and the company will operate initially within WPI’s Bioengineering Institute at Gateway Park. David Easson, director of both WPI’s Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park and its Bioengineering Institute, expressed his excitement for the project: “A fundamental part of our mission at WPI is to translate research into products that make a difference in the world,” he said. We are pleased to support this team’s efforts and look forward to VitaThreads creating jobs in Central Massachusetts and bringing to the clinic innovative products that can improve people’s lives.”
In May, the VitaThreads team took first prize at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Innovation Day 2012, sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC). The event attracted more than 350 people from life sciences companies and venture capital firms who reviewed presentations of 26 new technologies developed at Massachusetts universities. The VitaThreads technology will also be featured as part of WPI’s presence at BIO2012 in Boston on June 20.
Read more about Microthread Technologies here.
- Cooper Wolken, student intern