FORT COLLINS – The goal of Melissa Reynolds’ research at Colorado State University couldn’t be much nobler – and that isn’t an overstatement.
Reynolds, a chemistry professor and a Boettcher Foundation investigator, recently received a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a revolutionary wound-healing material for treating battlefield injuries.
And while the DOD grant is focused on combat treatment, the material will also have a variety of applications in reducing the risk of infection and promoting faster healing.
“The idea here is the material would be applied right after the wound to help it heal faster and eventually dissolve in place without complications like infections and scarring,” Reynolds said.
The key to the material is nitric oxide, a naturally occurring substance that helps prevent infection while promoting healthy cell growth in the body.
“The body already produces nitric oxide, so it’s a more natural approach to keeping the body functioning more normally,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds and her research team are in the early stages of developing a prototype that looks like powdered sugar right now.
“The material could be used on deep cuts inside the skin and muscles to prevent infection and bleeding and help the cells start to grow back in a healthy way,” Reynolds said. “Eventually, the material dissolves into the body.”
Reynolds said she expects the eventual final product will more closely resemble gauze – long a staple in first-aid kits. “I think it’ll have the touch and feel that gauze has, but maybe a little more rubbery,” she said. “The problem with gauze is it can help stop bleeding but it doesn’t do anything to promote healing.”
Reynolds said the DOD is looking for a wound-healing product that can be taken into battle and used by field medics or the soldiers themselves to field dress a wound.
But she noted that the material could have far wider applications, including on-site treatment of disaster victims and in hospital emergency rooms.
“It’s going to reduce infection and inflammation,” Reynolds said. “Having a material that helps control the body’s response (to a wound) is what our material aims to do and what current materials don’t do.”
Do better job
The new material could also be used to coat medical devices such as stents, orthopedic implants, patches and sutures and help those devices do a better job of what they’re supposed to do – treat the wound without causing complications in surrounding cells or tissues.
Reynolds will work with E.J. Ehrhart and Simon Turner, professors in CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to test the product when it reaches its latter phases. She said she expects the product to be ready for FDA clearance studies at the end of the three-year research period.
In 2010, Reynolds was named by the Boettcher Foundation one of only six Boettcher Foundation Investigators as part of the Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Program, which helps recruit, retain and advance scientific talent in Colorado.
“Dr. Reynolds has been on a steep trajectory in her research career following her recognition as a Boettcher Investigator,´ said Bill Farland, CSU’s vice president for research. “The generous grants awarded by the Boettcher Foundation and state’s Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant Program, through the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, have helped stimulate important research in her laboratory.”
Colorado’s Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grants are intended to accelerate commercialization of new discoveries and support new business development in bioscience and biofuels.
“We’ve made one generation of (wound-healing) materials so far and we’re continuing to develop others, but now with the DOD funding we can really accelerate that,” Reynolds said.
On behalf of Reynolds, the CSU Research Foundation filed a patent application and helped her form a company for accelerating the time-to-market for biocompatible coatings. The company, Diazamed, licensed the product from CSURF and was created with the help of NeoTREX, the commercialization arm of the Cancer Supercluster at CSU. NeoTREX is a division of CSU Ventures Inc., a nonprofit corporation.
Reynolds said her current research is the culmination of a goal she’s had since her college days. “For me, I’ve always wanted to improve the quality of life that patients receive,” she said. “It seemed that this was a pretty important area that needed to be addressed, and (I’m) happy to be involved in it.”