Beginning in the first trimester of pregnancy, the body begins to produce the hormone relaxin, which loosens the expectant mother’s muscles, joints and ligaments to help her body accommodate a growing baby and prepare for birth. When Edward Rodriguez, MD, PhD, Chief of Orthopedic Trauma in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIMDC) observed that patients with a common and painful joint condition called arthrofibrosis experienced long-lasting relief during and after pregnancy, he reached out to his colleagues in the lab to confirm his suspicion that relaxin could explain the phenomenon.
In a first-of-its-kind study, Rodriguez collaborated with Ara Nazarian, PhD, a principal investigator in the Center for Advanced Orthopaedic Studies at BIDMC, and Mark Grinstaff, PhD, Professor of Chemistry at Boston University, to investigate whether relaxin’s joint-loosening properties could be applied to alleviate symptoms of arthrofibrosis. The team found that multiple injections of human relaxin directly into the afflicted joint restored range of motion and improved tissue health in an animal model of frozen shoulder, a painful and debilitating form of arthrofibrosis particularly common among middle aged, often diabetic women. The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences… Continue reading.
When it comes to treating cancer, one BU researcher is going local. Professor Mark Grinstaff (BME, MSE, Chemistry, MED) recently published two studies that offer new approaches to the treatment of two intractable cancers—mesothelioma and esophageal cancer—by delivering therapeutic agents directly to the tumor site.
“Local drug delivery allows us to maximize drug dose at the disease site while reducing drug exposure to the rest of the body,” says Grinstaff. “This approach affords significantly fewer negative side effects, like hair loss and an overall decrease in the immune system, which are common with conventional intravenous chemotherapy treatments.”
A surfactant is a substance that reduces the surface tension of the liquid in which it is dissolved, thus enabling the liquid to disperse more easily when it comes in contact with a wettable material. For instance, laundry detergents help water penetrate through fabric and break up stains. Milkfat also acts as a surfactant, causing droplets of whole milk to wick into a certain class of materials, unlike low-fat or skim, which would bead up like water on a duck’s back.
What makes this more than an intriguing factoid is that one can use it to design a material to evaluate the fat content in breast milk, a critical factor in neonatal health. If the milk fails to penetrate the material, then it contains an inadequate concentration of fat (and calories). Caloric deficiency affects the nearly 10 percent of newborns who fail to thrive due to malnutrition, and the more than 80 percent of mothers who choose formula largely for this reason.
Over the past two years in Professor Mark Grinstaff’s (BME, MSE, Chemistry) lab, BME PhD student Eric Falde has been engineering a polymer sensor that indicates if breast milk has sufficient calories for nursing newborns. He tuned the polymer to switch from non-wetted (the milk beads up) to wetted (the milk wicks through) when there’s an inadequate level of milkfat (too much surface tension in the milk), and to release a purple dye to show when this switch occurs. Intended for home or field use, the sensor provides a far more rapid, affordable, portable, and simple test than today’s standard of care, which relies on a bulky centrifuge or high-pressure liquid chromatography to separate and analyze milk components.
Professor Mark Grinstaff (BME, MSE, Chemistry, MED) presented the inaugural Charles DeLisi Distinguished Lecture on April 2. The first named endowed lecture in the history of the College of Engineering, the Charles DeLisi Award and Lecture recognizes faculty members with extraordinary records of well-cited scholarship, and outstanding alumni who have invented and mentored transformative technologies that impact our quality of life.
Speaking before a packed audience of students, faculty and researchers at the Photonics Center, Grinstaff explored how over the past two decades, he, his students and collaborating researchers have translated ideas from the laboratory into highly effective new devices and materials for clinical applications.
“When I think about the problems I want to solve with my students, it’s very much about those projects that are rich in basic science and engineering, that will benefit society, and that will motivate us,” he said. He then described three such projects that have produced new biomaterials to improve diagnosis and treatment of major diseases and injuries.
A chronic disease afflicting more than 27 million Americans and 630 million worldwide, osteoarthritis occurs as the protective cartilage coating on joints in the knees, hips and other parts of the body degrades. No cure for osteoarthritis exists, but treatments can slow its progression, reduce pain and restore joint functioning. Now a team of researchers led by Professor Mark Grinstaff (BME, Chemistry, MSE) has developed a sensitive imaging method that promises to enhance diagnosis of osteoarthritis and enable improved care through earlier detection and more targeted treatments.
The method combines nanotechnology, engineering and medicine, and exploits new, biocompatible nanoparticles as contrast agents to image surface and interior regions of articular cartilage (the smooth, water-rich tissue that lines the ends of bones in load-bearing joints) — regions that traditional X-ray illumination cannot detect. The research, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, is described in the June 30 issue of Angewandte Chemie.
Researchers at Professor Mark Grinstaff’s (BME, Chemistry, MSE) lab and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have developed a highly absorbent hydrogel that not only seals wounds, but can later be dissolved and gently removed. Intended for wounds that must be quickly closed to stem blood loss and prevent infection, but later reopened for more extensive treatment, the biocompatible gel is particularly suitable for injuries sustained in combat or remote areas, and may well end up in the toolkits of first responders and emergency room medical personnel.
Grinstaff and his collaborators reported their first findings in Angewandte Chemie, Europe’s leading chemistry journal.
Reopening a wound can cause damage to injured tissue, particularly when blood-clotting agents or dressings were initially applied. The BU-BIDMC team’s wound closure system is the first that not only stops bleeding for several hours, adheres to the wound site and is easy to apply, but also is easy to remove in a controlled manner before surgery or other procedures.
“Today’s trauma wound closure materials, once applied, must later be cut out,” said Grinstaff. “We’ve introduced a mild process for removing a hydrogel sealant from a wound where there’s no cutting or scraping involved.”