Buddy Ratner talks to Francesca Lake, Managing Editor. After receiving his PhD in polymer chemistry from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (USA) in 1972, Ratner moved to the University of Washington (USA), where he has since become joint professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering and Michael L & Myrna Darland Endowed Chair in Technology Commercialization. Since 1996, he has led the UWEB Research Center for Biomaterials at the University of Washington, originally funded by the National Science Foundation. A pioneer of the biomaterials field, Ratner’s research interests include biomaterials, tissue engineering, polymers, biocompatibility and surface analysis of organic materials. A leader in the field, he has received numerous awards, has launched several companies and holds over 20 patents.
Dialysis can be a life-saving treatment for the millions of people across the globe who face kidney failure. But despite the importance of this treatment, the technology behind it is still essentially the same as when the process was pioneered at the University of Washington in Seattle in the early ’60s.
Now, a new UW center is hoping to revolutionize the technology again. The Center for Dialysis Innovation brings together researchers from around the university with the goal of greatly improving dialysis technology, and it just received a $15 million grant from nonprofit dialysis provider Northwest Kidney Centers to pursue that goal.
Northwest Kidney Centers says the grant will support startup projects within the Center for Dialysis Innovation, with the goal of one day developing dialysis technology that can completely restore kidney health.
Dialysis is currently the only treatment for kidney failure, short of a kidney transplant. Today, over 450,000 people in the U.S. are on dialysis, and the life expectancy for those patients is only 3 to 5 years.
Buddy Ratner, co-director of the UW’s Center for Dialysis Innovation and a professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering.
“We are excited about the Center for Dialysis Innovation because it brings together creative, entrepreneurial, can-do minds from a wide range of fields including nephrology and bioengineering. This team also wants to involve people living with kidney disease to help direct the center’s focus,” said Joyce Jackson, CEO of Northwest Kidney Centers, said in a press release.
“Their aim is to develop revolutionary dialysis technologies, including a wearable dialysis system that is low-cost, and energy- and water-efficient. This would not only sustain users’ lives, but give them more vitality and productivity. This work is desperately needed,” she said.
The $15 million will be delivered to the center over the next five years. It is the first outside funding the center has received and makes up over half of its goal budget of $25 million.
The Center for Dialysis Innovation opened last November and brings together researchers from the UW’s Kidney Research Institute and the university’s department of biomaterials and bioengineering. It is led by co-directors Jonathan Himmelfarb, director of the UW’s Kidney Research Institute, and Buddy Ratner, a professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering.
A new Center for Dialysis Innovation was launched in early November.
The Center hopes to improve the health and well-being of people with advanced kidney disease as they initiate and receive dialysis treatment. Its vision is that future dialysis therapy will be complication-free and completely restorative of kidney health. Solutions to meet these goals will combine a comprehensive technical redesign of dialysis therapy with enhanced opportunities for patient well-being, independence and autonomy in self-care.
Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb and Dr. Buddy Ratner co-direct the new center. Himmelfarb heads the Kidney Research Institute and is a professor of medicine, Division of Nephrology, at the Univeristy of Washington School of Medicine. Ratner oversees UWEB (Univeristy of Washington Bionengineered Materials) and is a professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering in the UW College of Engineering.
“We are working to upgrade and substantially improve the entire dialysis system to create safer, faster, more cost-effective dialysis,” said Himmelfarb. “By bringing physicians, engineers, scientists and kidney patients together, we can address each of the major kidney dialysis complications. The schedule we have set is aggressive, but it is essential that we bring new options to patients as soon as possible.”
Kidney disease affects more than 20 million American adults and is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. While rates of death from heart disease, diabetes and cancer have all decreased signficiantly in recent years, mortality rates from kidney disease have stayed the same. Advanced kidney disease is fatal without the support of either dialysis therapy or a kidney transplant. Transplants are scarce and dialysis is the mainstay of treatment. Most patients dialyze in a chair at an outpatient center three times a week for four hours at a time, a schedule that can restrict their daily lives.
“Many patients suffer numerous complications,” said Ratner, “and on average, in the United States, survive just over three years on dialysis. In the developing world, survival is much worse. In many cases, dialysis is not even available, possibly leading to as many as 7 million deaths each year. We want to transform dialysis completely by giving patients more freedom and bringing dialysis to people around the globe.”
UW Bioengineering Professor Buddy Ratner has received one of two Most Cited Article awards from the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, the official journal of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). The Annals of Biomedical Engineering is an interdisciplinary, international journal which presents original and review articles in the major fields of bioengineering and biomedical engineering.
In recognition of this honor, Dr. Ratner will receive a public recognition and a monetary award during the awards ceremony of this year’s BMES Annual Meeting, held in October in Tampa, Fla.
The article’s co-authors include BioE alumni Dr. Eric Sussman and Michelle Halpin. The article, entitled “Porous Implants Modulate Healing and Induce Shifts in Local Macrophage Polarization in the Foreign Body Reaction,” investigates factors which contribute to foreign body reaction (FBR), the body’s response to implanted biomaterials.
This response can adversely impact the function of medical devices by interfering with the device’s integration with the body, blocking blood supply and long-term release of drugs. Researchers have long been interested in developing a better understanding of FBR in order to devise strategies for eliminating it.
Dr. Ratner, a pioneer of the biomaterials field, focuses on creating “biomaterials that heal” that enhance the performance and function of medical devices. His research interests include biomaterials, tissue engineering, polymers, biocompatibility and surface analysis of organic materials. Dr. Ratner’s work has revolutionized knowledge in the field and made significant clinical impact. Particularly interested in technology commercialization, Dr. Ratner holds more than 20 patents and has participated in the launch of several companies based upon his work.
Buddy Ratner, UW professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering and the Michael L. & Myrna Darland Endowed Chair in Technology Commercialization, has been selected as a 2015 Langmuir Lecturer.
Langmuir Lecturers are selected by representatives from the ACS Colloid and Surface Chemistry Division and representatives from the journal Langmuir. Each Langmuir Lecturer will deliver a plenary lecture in a special session of the Colloid and Surface Chemistry Division program at the 2015 ACS Fall National Meeting in Boston, Mass. Lecturers also receive a $3,000 honorarium, a plaque, free registration and travel reimbursement. Lecturers are expected to submit a lecture manuscript for publication in Langmuir.
It’s a familiar scenario – a patient receives a medical implant and days later, the body attacks the artificial valve or device, causing complications to an already compromised system.
Expensive, state-of-the-art medical devices and surgeries often are thwarted by the body’s natural response to attack something in the tissue that appears foreign. Now, University of Washington engineers have demonstrated in mice a way to prevent this sort of response. Their findings were published online this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
“It has applications for so many different medical implants, because we literally put hundreds of devices into the body,” said Buddy Ratner, co-author and a UW professor of bioengineering and of chemical engineering. “We couldn’t achieve this level of excellence in healing before we had this synthetic hydrogel.”
The 2012 George Winter ESB awardee is Prof. Buddy D. Ratner (USA), for his excellence in research, vision and leading role in the promotion of biomaterials science worldwide. The award will be officially attributed during the 25th ESB Annual Conference, in Madrid, Spain, in 2013.