Himanshu Jain and his colleagues recently received two U.S. patents for “scaffolds” of glass that regenerate diseased bone tissue. Their endeavor, which spans four continents, began in 2004, when Lehigh received an NSF grant to establish the International Materials Institute (IMI) for New Functionality in Glasses.
On a visit to Egypt in 2004, Jain, who directs the IMI, met Mona Marei, who heads the tissue engineering lab in the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Alexandria. Marei challenged Jain to develop a glass product that could be used to treat people with deteriorating teeth and jawbones.
Jain began collaborating with Rui Almeida and Ana Marques of the Instituto Superior Tecnico in Lisbon, Portugal, on a method of making biocompatible glass. Hassan Moawad, Jain’s research associate, also joined the group and worked on a second fabrication approach.
In 2006, on a flight to Japan, Jain bumped into Matthias Falk, a Lehigh biologist with expertise in the cellular processes underlying tissue regeneration. The group later welcomed Leena Hupa of the Abo Akademi in Finland, who has a knowledge of scaffold degradation, and Jui Chakraborty of the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute in Kolkata, India, who is helping develop an injectable paste of the glass.
The challenge for the group was to make a biocompatible material that, when placed inside the body, would degrade at about the same rate the new tissue grows. This scaffold, tailored to the needs of the individual patient, would at the same time stimulate the regrowth of damaged or diseased bone and other hard tissue.
“Scientists have had some success in regenerating soft tissue,” says Jain. “But hard tissue is much more difficult to regrow.”
Jain’s group spent seven years designing and testing its patented glass scaffold. A critical feature of the material is a coexistent interconnected porosity at the nano- and macroscales that enables cells to proliferate and attach to the inside of the scaffold while facilitating the flow of nutrients to regenerating bone tissue and accelerating the rate at which the material decays and is absorbed by the body.
In trials conducted by Marei, the group has succeeded in regenerating the blood vessels, collagen and jawbones of animals. Jain, Almeida and Marques were awarded a patent in October for nano/macroporous bone tissue scaffolds for regenerative medicine. A second patent awarded in March for the fabrication approach devised by Moawad is based on the conventional melt-quench method of glass fabrication.
The project has received support from NSF and IMI and has provided training to more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students.