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Biomedical Engineer Receives Patent for Drug-Releasing Fibers

August 13, 2003

Kevin Nelson, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in The University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Engineering, has received a U.S. Patent for his drug releasing, biodegradable fibers. Nelson has been working on the fibers since 1996.

The fibers carry drugs or chemicals to targeted areas of the body, and then harmlessly dissolve once their work is completed. The fibers have potential uses in battling cancers and in repairing damaged nerve and organ tissue.

For instance, pancreatic cancer is a very lethal disease that, while it accounts for only 2% of all newly diagnosed cancers, causes 5% of all cancer deaths. It’s been found that 90 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are deficient in tumor suppressing genes.

Dr. Nelson has completed preliminary studies on biodegradable fibers that can be loaded with three tumor-suppressing genes. This package could efficiently be injected into a tumor, where it would release the genes to modify the suppressor replication deficiency of the pancreas.

Another use would be to repair injury to blood vessels that feed vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Dr. Nelson is working on fibers that promote angiogenesis – the creation of new blood vessels – leading to cardiac revascularization. The final version of this form of treatment would utilize a woven pad of biodegradable fibers, similar to a cotton gauze pad that would be attached to the damaged organ.

Dr. Nelson, in a collaborative effort with Dr. George Smith of the University of Kentucky, is in the fourth year of a $1.216 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop applications leading to nerve regeneration. Their work involves dorsal root ganglion cells to recreate mylanated axons, which conduct the electrical impulses along the nervous system. The team has successfully repaired a 18mm gap in the sciatic nerve of a rat and sensory axonal growth across a 4mm gap in the spinal cord, which is part of the central nervous system.