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Biomedical Engineering

Drug delivery device

Initially developed for young children with hemophilia, this palm-sized device could administer many drugs. (large image)

A palm-sized, pain-free
drug-delivery platform

With funding from the W.H. Coulter Translational Research Partnership in Biomedical Engineering, which encourages faculty-clinician research that leads to a commercial product, Professor David Beebe and colleagues have developed a palm-sized device that could deliver measured, timed doses of drugs ranging from aspirin to insulin.

Easy and inexpensive to make, the disposable device is slightly larger than a poker chip and contains no electronic parts. Inside are three layers: a stimulus-responsive material called a hydrogel, the stimulus, and the drug. “When you press the button, it connects the stimulus to the hydrogel,” says Beebe. “The stimulus makes the hydrogel swell, which is the pumping action, and it simultaneously connects the drug packet to the skin. So, there’s just one simple motion required to operate the device.”

Initially, Beebe, biomedical engineering alum Ben Moga and Pediatrics Associate Professor Carol Diamond developed this platform technology to deliver a vital blood-clotting factor to children with hemophilia. Since then, they have conducted animal studies using liquid aspirin and a vaccine.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has patented the technology, which Beebe and Moga are continuing to research and develop. Currently, they are perfecting a microneedle array, which replaces the current single needle, for virtually pain-free drug delivery. In addition, Beebe and UW-Madison biomedical engineering and business alum Tony Escarcega formed Ratio, a spin-off company that is commercializing the device.

Among their closest competitors is a simple microneedle array coated with dry-formulated drugs. Beebe’s device bypasses the need for drug reformulation—making it an attractive technology for a pharmaceutical company to license. “In theory, ours has a lot of fundamental advantages in that we could take almost any drug off the shelf and deliver it immediately, which can provide a significant value-add proposition for pharmaceutical companies,” says Beebe.

Body of knowledge:
Culturing stem cells for tissue engineering

Assistant Professor William Murphy derives inspiration for his work as a tissue engineer from studying the complex processes through which human cells develop into tissue, limbs, organs and the like. “As these organs and limbs develop, cells on one end of the tissue have to differentiate into a different cell type than cells on the other end of the tissue,” he says.

That’s where protein concentration gradients do their work. For his National Science Foundation CAREER Award research, Murphy hopes to generate materials that deliver such gradients to stem cells—in this case, adult human stem cells isolated from bone marrow—in a controlled way.

He has developed an array-based approach that enables him to study, simultaneously, the effects of hundreds or thousands of different gradients on stem cells in three-dimensional culture. The approach increases the likelihood that Murphy will identify a gradient that significantly affects cell behavior.

Eventually, Murphy, who also maintains affiliations with the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering, Pharmacology, and Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, hopes to mimic protein concentration gradients in his efforts to engineer tissue.

For now, he is attempting to create biomaterials in which the stem cells throughout initially are homogeneous, but are exposed to heterogeneous signaling environments. “If we can spatially control whether they’re alive, first, in different parts of the material, and then second, whether they then differentiate into a particular mature cell type, then we have a pretty powerful approach for trying to engineer tissues,” he says.

Eight new translational
research partnerships funded

The W.H. Coulter Translational Research Partnership in Biomedical Engineering oversight committee has selected its third-annual round of collaborative research projects for funding:

The Coulter Translational Research Partnership in Biomedical Engineering fosters early-stage collaborations between UW-Madison biomedical engineering researchers and practicing physicians. These collaborations will enable researchers to deliver advances more quickly to patients. The Biomedical Engineering Center for Translational Research promotes and facilitates these collaborative efforts.

The center actively develops partnerships, cultivates new translational research projects based on clinical practice needs, identifies and supports promising biomedical engineering collaborative research projects, and rapidly translates solutions into the clinic by fully using UW-Madison campus resources for technology transfer and commercialization.

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