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  5. Fast fix: Bioactive coatings promote cell growth

Fast fix: Bioactive coatings promote cell growth

Associate Professor Bill Murphy (center), with graduate students Travelle Franklin-Ford (left) and Jae-Sung Lee.

Associate Professor Bill Murphy (center), with graduate students Travelle Franklin-Ford (left) and Jae-Sung Lee. Photo: Jim Beal.

For people who suffer excruciating back pain due to injury or disc degeneration, relief often comes in the form of spinal fusion and disc replacement. Metallic implants are the current standard, and while these devices mechanically fix tissue or replace vertebrae, they don’t heal the problem.

Responding to patients’ need for faster, more effective healing is one of the reasons Biomedical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Pharmacology Associate Professor Bill Murphy and colleagues from the University of Michigan founded Tissue Regeneration Systems.

Murphy and Tissue Regeneration Systems co-founders—University of Michigan engineer Scott Hollister, neurosurgeon Frank LaMarca and maxillofacial surgeon Steve Feinberg, and Midwest-based venture capital professional Jim Adox—are developing ways to use bioactive materials to heal soft tissue and bone.

One approach involves designing custom “scaffolds” for reconstructing bone and soft tissue—particularly in maxillofacial reconstruction and spinal fusion. Murphy and colleagues are developing bioactive coatings for scaffolds that can fill in large bone defects. These coatings deliver stem cell types and molecules that encourage and accelerate bone cell in-growth.

Similarly, Murphy and UW-Madison Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Associate Professor Ben Graf (also BME) and Assistant Professor Geoffrey Baer are coating such existing devices as sutures, screws, suture anchors, tacks and pins for soft-tissue healing. They can apply these coatings to different types of devices and deliver different biological molecules, which can bind in the operating room and release over time as the injured area heals.

In large-animal models, Murphy and UW-Madison Medical Sciences Professor Mark Markel (also BME) have shown they can enhance bone and tendon healing in bone defects with coated biodegradable screws, in the rotator cuff with coated biodegradable sutures, and in other applications.

Renee Meiller