Saving Lives With Biomedical Engineering

i-7a83e28239af3d66e9fa2ec8a56491c9-erin.pngWhen biomedical engineering scientist Erin Lavik received the prestigious New Innovator Award last year from the National Institutes of Health for her work in advancing the development of synthetic (artificial) blood platelets, she was already becoming known in biomedical circles as a rising researcher.

Erin's laboratory at Case Western Reserve University, where she is currently an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering, was attracting attention for its focus on developing new approaches to understand and treat hemorrhaging, spinal cord injury, glaucoma, and diseases of the retina and optic nerve.

Recently (as noted by the New Innovator Award), she and her team at Case Western have received recognition for using nanotechnology -- an emerging scientific field that manipulates material on very small scales -- to build synthetic platelets of biodegradable polymers which are designed to link with the body's natural platelets to slow or stop bleeding faster after injury.

Says Erin: "We were looking for ways to control internal bleeding in our experiments, and we were stunned at how limited the options are, so we built our own system." Synthetic blood platelets made with nanoparticles may help slow internal bleeding, saving lives on the battlefield and following other traumatic injuries such as those sustained in auto accidents.

Can you think of some other applications for synthetic blood platelets?

Read more about AT&T sponsored Nifty Fifty program speaker Erin Lavik here.

And watch Erin's speech on tissue engineering and treatment of spinal cord injury:

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I have to confess, I have never heard of her or her work but it is a good post. It is a shame these types of advances don't get more attention. The network news is a 24 hour cycle of mindless political posturing, celebrity scandal, and disaster panic. it is nice to see positive news being covered.

Thanks for following our blog and for your refreshing comment!

Alas ... given a very slow connection I'm unable to view the video. Is there a copy of the report in text form available?

Interesting and exiting development. I remember shuttling vials of factor eight to a woman with postpartum hemophilia. As I remember it it took eighteen vials (at around $8000 each), numerous transfusions, and other stuff to stem the flow.

Synthetic platelets sounds like it might have helped. In the middle of the crisis they were willing to try anything. One of the docs solicited ideas from all present. It was that bad.

Synthetic platelets, wow. I suspect tolerance is not a big issue. On the other hand, how does the body handle them? Normal platelets get removed during repair. Is the body able to dissolve these guys?

Thanks for following the blog and for writing in. Consider contacting Case Western Reserve University to inquire about a transcript of the presentation. Here is some information that may help:

Title: Engineering angiogenesis following spinal cord injury: building
functional, stable blood vessels and promoting the formation of the
blood-spinal cord barrier
Speaker: Erin Lavik, Sc.D.
Seminar Series: Neural Prosthesis Seminar
Date: September 12, 2008
Location: Nord 310 A&B
Case Western Reserve University
Sponsored By: The FES and the APT Centers

Presented By:
Erin Lavik, Sc.D.
Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering
School of Engineering and Applied Science
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Hosted by:
Hunter Peckham, Ph.D.
Donnell Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Orthopaedics
Case Western Reserve University
Director, Functional Electrical Stimulation Center
Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center
MetroHealth Medical Center Abstract:
It is estimated that there are 250,000 people in the U.S. with spinal cord injuries (SCI)
and over 2 million worldwide. While, the majority of SCI research has focused on
regenerating neural tissue, recovery is correlated with angiogenesis. Furthermore,
vessels appear to play an important role in the neural stem cell (NSC) niche and may promote the proliferation, and neuronal differentiation of NSCs. However, inducing angiogenesis following SCI has been challenging since many of the factors and drugs permeabilize the surrounding vessels and can exacerbate injury. Engineering vascular
networks could be an alternative to inducing extensive angiogenesis, but it has been challenging to engineer vascular networks that are stable for long times. We sought to determine whether stable, microvascular networks could be engineered using a coculture of primary ECs and NSCs. We isolated primary rat NSCs and primary ECs and cocultured them in a macroporous hydrogel based on poly(l-lysine) (PLL)
and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG). Coculture of primary NPCs and ECs led to stable, functional vessels up to 6 weeks with no signs of clot formation in a subcutaneous model. Moreover, this coculture promoted the formation of microvascular networks in a
spinal cord model. The coculture also led to the formation of the blood-spinal cord barrier whereas the controls did not. This lays the groundwork for a new approach to promote recovery and regeneration following injury in the CNS and may provide a new paradigm to understand and treat neurological diseases and disorders in the CNS more broadly.

As to an application of these polymers, my first thought is synthetic antibodies to HIV. If there were a way to select these molecules in vitro to match a periodic sample of the patient's virus, this could provide an artificial replacement for the patient's lost natural immune response.

No idea if this makes sense or not, just wondering...

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