Sixty-three U.S. and international patents for pseudo-protein biomaterials have emerged from the Ithaca lab of C. C. Chu, the Rebecca Q. Morgan '60 Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology--just in the past decade. With more patents pending and extensive partnerships with doctors and researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) in New York City, Chu continues to expand the use of biomaterial properties and practicalities in the treatment of wounds, diseased heart valves and blood vessels, bone repair, gene transfection for gene therapy, immunotherapy for cancer patients, and allergy treatment.
The collaborations are helping to bridge the gap between research and medical practice, enabling WCMC doctors to imagine new possibilities for treatment and Chu to test potential uses for his discoveries.
"Each generation of these products offers new applications and better performance than previous ones," said Chu, one of the founding members of the Biomedical Engineering Program at Cornell. "In my tribe [Chu's term for his lab] we are never standing still."
A key driver of Chu's continued progress is Cornell's commitment to fostering and funding working partnerships among researchers, especially within biomedical engineering, nanomedicine, and systems biology; diagnostics and experimental therapeutics; global health and infectious diseases; and cancer-related cell biology. These collaborations leverage Human Ecology and WCMC expertise and resources to advance research and development beyond what the traditional "silo" approach can yield.
"Although difficult to coordinate at times," said Bo Liu, a specialist in vascular disease, "these working relationships provide researchers access to clinical testing, making their discoveries much more translational."
Vascular grafts deliver drugs
Chu has partnered with Liu to create drug-eluting, biodegradable vascular grafts. Their research is supported by the Morgan Seed Grants for Collaborative Multidisciplinary Research in Tissue Engineering. Liu's lab provided a clinical outlet for Chu's biomaterial research, advancing it from traditional material study to small animal testing, a critical first step in the long journey from basic research to clinical practice. The data collected by Liu, now an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, have helped Chu to significantly advance the performance of biomaterials for cardiovascular treatment.
Vascular grafts have been commercially available for more than 50 years. While effective, these grafts are made of traditional fabrics such as polyesters and Gore-Tex that are non-biodegradable and offer no drug-eluting capabilities. Chu's vascular grafts, on the other hand, consist of patented amino-acid-based polyester amides (PEA) biomaterials invented in Chu's lab that are capable of delivering a wide range of bioactive compounds, such as nitric oxide.
Chu said the advantage to human cardiovascular health is that his grafts "biomimic" what the natural blood vessel already does. "Using nitric oxide for the vascular grafts was a natural choice because it is indigenous to the body," said Chu. "When stimulated, the body produces nitric oxide to dilate the blood vessels along with a host of other critical biological functions, helping to keep them open for optimal blood flow."
When rat aortic patches were tested in Liu's lab, the nitric oxide-eluting vascular grafts showed significant advantages over non-eluting grafts, including the ability to promote endothelial cell lining, protect against intimal hyperplasia (the thickening of the vessel wall), and mute inflammation.
The Chu lab's PEA-based biomaterials offer another advantage, thanks to an unusual and unique biological property: muted inflammatory response to foreign bodies. It's a trait that is unmatched by current FDA-approved biomaterials and their medical devices, Chu said. …