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Technology Transfer

By: Steve Herman
Posted: January 20, 2011, from the January 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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For wound healing and tissue regeneration, one of the great challenges is restoring the circulatory system. Work performed in Johns Hopkins University’s Gerecht Lab2 accomplished this by immobilizing select angiogenic growth factors in a biodegradable polymeric system with reduced crosslinking to resemble the extracellular matrix.

Explaining and Exploring

It seems like a lot of technical jargon to delve through, but the Gerecht Lab work can be reduced to some self-evident ideas. Angiogenesis is the physiological process involving the growth of new blood vessels from existing vessels. Vasculogenesis is the term used for spontaneous blood vessel formation. Angiogenesis is a normal and vital process in growth and development, as well as in wound healing. In short, when the skin gets hurt, it is necessary to replace the blood vessels as well as the dermal tissue.

The dextran hydrogel provides a scaffold for healing tissue to re-grow. It is biodegradable, so it melts away as the genuine body components take over. When polymers are formed, more cross-linking creates denser structures. By careful control of the cross-linking, the gel encourages rapid healing—of course there is a lot more to the actual technology. Then, molecules that send healing signals are embedded in the matrix during its formation.

Technical jargon aside, the basic idea is to enhance the natural healing process both in the delivery matrix and the biologically tuned actives.

Regarding the dermal benefits of gene therapy mentioned previously in this column, KGF is an inducer of epithelial cell proliferation and differentiation (epithelial cells refer to cells that, among other things, line hollow organs and glands—including those that are keratinized and, therefore, are waterproof and found in skin). Gene Facelift is a Johns Hopkins’ biotech spin-off based on work by Aaron Tabor, MD, on the dermal benefits of KGF-1 pDNA. The genetic engineering is used for the development of anti-aging and antiwrinkle gene therapy drugs. The technology is designed to replace damaged skin DNA in order to heal wrinkles and reverse the aging process. In the conventional approach to skin treatment, the growth factors don’t stay active long due to protease decomposition. Gene therapy promoting overexpression of the growth factors for a sustained period is a possible solution, and KGF-1 pDNA administration has the potential to reverse many of the undesirable effects of skin aging and wrinkle formation.