Written by Jerred Ziegler.
Organ and tissue transplants give hope to those suffering from terminal diseases, but finding donors and executing successful transplants can be a challenging process. Nanofiber Solutions in Columbus, Ohio, is developing products that allow the body to heal organs and tissues like never before, without the need for grafts or donors. The company uses tiny fibers called nanofibers, about 1/100 the width of a human hair, to create molds that help the body create new, healthy tissue.
“Each of our designs represents a different organ” said Nanofiber Solutions co-founder and chief technology officer, Jed Johnson. “We call them scaffolds because it’s a framework that we implant. The body grows into the scaffolds and remodels it into a new tissue or new organ.”
Nanofiber Solutions’ first product was a petri dish with a thin layer of nanofibers on the bottom. This allows cells to grow into the scaffolds and helps researchers understand how cells interact with the fibers. Using this knowledge, the company developed models to regenerate skin, blood vessels and tracheas that are currently being tested in labs at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“We’re doing things today that no one thought was possible. Patients are going to have more options in the future,” said Johnson. “We plan to deliver devices that will allow people to regenerate and repair their own organs, and that’s never been done before.”
Millions of nanofibers are shaped into sheets and either applied to a wound or rolled into tubes to mimic the shape of the tissue the body needs. The eventual goal is to apply this method to other body parts and eliminate the need for organ donation.
“A person may wait years for an organ transplant and, when they get it, they have to take immune-suppressing medication to prevent the body from rejecting the organ. This can make the patient susceptible to other diseases and take a toll on their health,” said Johnson. “If we can create blood vessels and skin using pieces of plastic, then the body won’t reject an organ.”
Johnson developed the nanofiber petri dish while attending The Ohio State University to earn his PhD in engineering. It helped neurosurgeons study how glioblastoma, one of the deadliest types of brain cancer, mutates and spreads throughout the body. With that technology, he started Nanofiber Solutions in 2010, and the company was awarded a $100,000 Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund grant from Ohio Third Frontier. This allowed researchers to develop the scaffold models and begin testing them. The company’s wet lab and office space are within Rev1 Venture’s incubator facilities, a central Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier.
Johnson says Columbus is the perfect place for Nanofiber Solutions because the city has everything they need. All employee hires have been through their internship program with The Ohio State University and Ohio Third Frontier, and they’ve partnered with world-class lab and research facilities like Nationwide Children’s Hospital to get their products approved and into hospitals as soon as possible.
“The funding and resources that we received is the only reason we’re here today,” said Johnson. “To generate the type of data that we need to convince others that we can regenerate functional organs takes a lot of studies and testing, and the only way for us to complete that is with support like we’ve received here in Ohio.”