Harvard scientists have developed a new biodegradable gel-based sponge that can be loaded up with drugs or stem cells, compressed to a tiny size, and delivered via injection into the body, where it gradually releases its medicine.
The technological development, detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can be used for a range of minimally invasive therapeutic applications, including regenerative medicine, said the bioengineers who produced the seaweed-based sponge.
"What we've created is a three-dimensional structure that you could use to influence the cells in the tissue surrounding it and perhaps promote tissue formation," said David J. Mooney, a professor at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who led the research team.
"The simplest application is when you want bulking," he explained. "If you want to introduce some material into the body to replace tissue that's been lost or that is deficient, this would be ideal. In other situations, you could use it to transplant stem cells if you're trying to promote tissue regeneration, or you might want to transplant immune cells, if you're looking at immunotherapy."
Mooney said the tiny sponge contains pores that allow liquids and even live cells — such as stem cells — to attach to its walls. Once injected through a syringe, those liquids and cells and be slowly released into the body and the sponge safely dissolves.
Researchers envision developing the sponges for a variety of uses and applications, including drug-delivery, stem-cell therapies, “dermal filler” in cosmetic procedures, and immunotherapy.
Harvard's Office of Technology Development has filed patent applications on the invention and is pursuing licensing and commercialization opportunities.
The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.