Medical electrospinning: it’s time to become more engaged

‘It’s not the sky that is the limit, it’s your imagination’: Managing Director of IME Medical Electrospinning speaks about the possibilities of medical electrospinning.

Electrospinning is a method used to make nano- and micro-fibres using a variety of different polymers. When making these micro- and nano-structures, you can mimic the extracellular matrix. All cells in the human body are attached to an extracellular matrix; similar to a scaffold that is holding the body together. Moreover, the extracellular matrix has a variety of very important functions in the human body, including regulating and directing cell behaviour. The extracellular matrix plays a crucial role in fundamental cellular processes such as proliferation, migration and differentiation.

The Innovation Platform speaks to Managing Director of IME Medical Electrospinning, Judith Heikoop. IME Medical Electrospinning develops innovative electrospin processes and equipment for the fabrication of medical implants that enable the human body to repair itself, such as heart valves, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, skin and bone. IME Medical Electrospinning’s technology is able to mimic the natural human extracellular matrix in nanometer format and thereby produce fibres for implants for the human body. Human cells attach themselves to this matrix and thus provide new tissue. This is in contrast to implants of other structures, which are seen as foreign and therefore can lead to scar tissue.

To begin, can you give us an overview of what medical electrospinning is?

The extracellular matrix is not a static structure but is in fact a highly dynamic structure that is continuously remodelled. Cells recognise micro- and nano-fibres as part of their native environment and start to actively interact with it. Doing so they can also substitute the biodegradable material by their own extracellular matrix. Then within the time that the scaffold has been degraded, a new natural tissue will be formed– this is the regenerative medicine tissue engineering role of electrospinning.

When it comes to medical electrospinning, there is also a pharma role. This is because the fibres are so thin and interact with their surroundings, that they can also be used to elude drugs in a very controlled and local way. For example, in terms of a Medical Device application, MedTech scaffolds very often contain drug eluting properties (such as drug eluting stents, wound healing sheets etc.). Therefore, electrospinning is also very well suited to combine MedTech scaffolds with drug releasing properties. Exiting fields in this respect are cardiovascular, ophthalmic and mucosal applications.

What is the importance of medical electrospinning technology?

The importance of the medical electrospinning technology is that for the first time, we can perform electrospinning a predictable and reproducible way. If you interact with cells in the human body, you want to make sure that the interaction (if you develop a medical device or a pharma product) is always the same. Therefore, the reproducibility is really essential together with the fact that you can design what you want; for the first time this is what our medical electrospinning can do. We make sure that we design what we really want so that the efficacy is the same all the time. We make sure it’s reproducible, and we also make sure that we can ensure large-scale production.

In accordance to this then, can you tell us about MediSpin® XL platform? What is the importance of this and what difference will this make in the medical industry?

MediSpin® XL is the first industrial production platform that is of good quality, whilst also facilitating reproducibility and thus efficacy. The system has a body of a stringently climate-controlled environment which is important for both the quality and reproducibility. Then, depending on the scaffolds you want to make, there are process specific tailor-made software and hardware elements included that allow for a specific process.

I don’t know of any system, apart from MediSpin® XL, that is this controlled. This speeds up products to come to market because when tested in clinical trials, it is always the same scaffolds. As a result, the number of products that will reach the market will be much higher because the variety is only based on the variety between patients and not based on the variety between scaffolds because it’s always the same. More products will show that they are effective in patients, and it’s also easier to study what the effectiveness of different types of fibres are in certain applications. As a result, this will also forward the research and development in the interaction between cells and the extracellular matrix in general. Then of course, when a product reaches the market, it will allow for scalable production and for development of big applications based on large patient populations.

During the process of medical electrospinning research and development, what were some of the biggest challenges you came up against and how were these overcome?

One part of the equation is the hardware and software. The second part of the equation is the application. You need to have a lot of application knowledge, both on the polymer side and the medical application side, to understand what is required to produce an effective scaffold. We as a company have spun over 60 synthetic and natural polymers. As a result, we have a lot of polymer knowledge, and on top of that, we are now fairly active in a lot of different areas of regenerative medicine, as well as pharmaceutical applications. Combining all this knowledge with the knowledge about the way the equipment works, makes us very efficient in helping our customers to develop the scaffolds they want.

Looking towards the future, where do you hope to see medical electrospinning research and equipment in five years’ time? What role do you hope to see IME play in this?

What I hope is that over the next five years, the large pharma, as well as medical device industry, get more engaged. This is because it has been shown that indeed these methods that were believed to never come out of the lab, are now in fact ready to be adopted by the industry. It’s not the sky that is the limit, it’s your imagination. I really believe that the medical electrospinning technology will allow multiple different and huge opportunities to help in drug delivery, as well as in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

I think it is very important right now that there are still a lot of universities as well as companies that work with home-build equipment without stringent control. This is a threat to the industry because if they produce scaffolds that are not efficient, reproducible or scalable then this is an indication that this technology will never reach the market. All of these issues with reproducibility, inferior tissue formation and limited scalability, led to a lot of people becoming extremely disappointed in the technology. I hope that they will work with us and with the products that have failed in the past to understand that if you can keep the medical electrospinning process under control, these products might be able to be picked up again and developed towards the market and solutions for patient’s needs.

Judith Heikoop
Managing Director
IME Medical Electrospinning
+31 (0)40 282 7956

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