Worcester, Mass. Development of new therapies for a range of medical conditionsfrom common sports injuries to heart attackswill be supported by a new production-scale microthread extruder designed and built by a team of graduate students and biomedical engineering faculty at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
The new microthread extrusion system is in the final stages of testing and validation, and will soon be manufacturing thousands of hair-like biopolymer threads a day at WPI's Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park.
"The use of these microthreads is spreading across labs here at WPI, and to our collaborators around the country," said Glenn Gaudette, associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, who oversaw the development of the new extrusion system. "So we needed greater quantities of the microthreads and a system to standardize and control the production process."
The idea for using microthreads as a basis for tissue engineering was developed in the laboratory of George Pins, associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, who was looking for a better way to repair the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. The current surgical treatment for ACL tears or ruptures, which affect an estimated 100,000 people in the United States each year, involves removing a section of healthy tendon from another part of the body and grafting it into the knee to replace the ACL. While surgery is often required to help patients regain full use of the knee, the current approach is not considered ideal because it injures one part of the body to repair another.
"The ACL, like other ligaments and tendons, is a fibrous cable-like structure," Pins said. "So the original idea was to use thin collagen threads, bundled into cables that mimic the natural structures in the body, as a scaffold for the tissue engineering that would be used to replace the ACL.
Collagen is the main structural protein of
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Worcester Polytechnic Institute