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Georgia Tech/Emory Spin-Off Gains SBIR Funding

Microbeads with stem cells enclosed (SpherIngenics Inc.)

Microbeads with stem cells enclosed (SpherIngenics Inc.)

A spin-off company founded by faculty at the biomedical engineering department shared by Georgia Tech and Emory University in Atlanta has received a small-business grant for its technology that protects the delivery of cell-based therapies, such as stem cells. SpherIngenics Inc., also in Atlanta, was awarded the two-year $730,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from Department of Defense.

SpherIngenics is commercializing a technology developed in the labs at the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, staffed by faculty from the two schools. Cell-based therapies, while holding great potential, have been hampered by their fragility when faced by the hostile environment of the human body. Inflammation, in particular, causes most therapeutic cells to die or migrate away from the area in need of repair.

Boyan’s lab researched this problem and developed a solution involving protective miniature capsules for delivery of therapeutic cells they call microbeads. The research resulted in five patents, which Georgia Tech, the holder of the patents, licensed to SpherIngenics.

The company was founded in 2007 by Georgia Tech/Emory professor Franklin Bost, who serves as the company’s CEO, with Georgia Tech faculty Barbara Boyan and Zvi Schwartz. Boyan is SpherIngenics’ chief scientist and Schwartz serves as its research director.

SpherIngenics received its first SBIR grant from DoD to test the technical feasibility and commercial viability of its discoveries. The first phase of the project showed as many as 250 human adult stem cells could remain viable in culture if they were encapsulated in a 200-micron-diameter bead — 1 micron equals 1 millionth of a meter — made of natural algae materials and that the microbeads could release factors that aid tissue regeneration.

The new SBIR grant will fund the second phase of the project that aims to get the technology closer to its target markets of hospitals and cell therapy companies. “For the phase 2 SBIR grant,” says Boyan, “we’re going to examine whether delivering microbeads full of stem cells can enhance cartilage repair and regeneration of craniofacial defects in an animal model.”

Once the technology is on the market, Bost and colleagues believe microbeads can both improve the effectiveness of cell treatments and cut their expense. “When damaged tissue is being repaired by a cell-based therapy, our microbead technology ensures that cells travel to and remain in the targeted area while maintaining continued viability,” says Bost. “This technology has the potential to reduce the cost of treatment by eliminating the need for multiple therapeutic procedures.”

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