Reengineering the Human Body
The EyeThe EarThe SpineThe BladderThe HipsThe ArmsThe KneesThe LegsThe Heart
Today’s biotech entrepreneurs are confronting medical conditions head-on with innovative technologies -- some changing the way new procedures are marketed, others looking to drive down health care costs altogether. From head to toe, here are some promising companies who are transforming the human body -- one organ at a time.
The aftermath of an eye surgery can often be a painful one -- possible infections loom, as well as blurred vision and inflammation. I-Therapeutix, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, developed the I-ZIP bandage, a hydrogel coating that offers a suture-free method for healing cataract incisions. The company, which closed a $15 million round of venture capital in June, also hopes to aid glaucoma patients by creating gel-like eyelid inserts that will administer medication automatically.
Many hearing aids are ungainly; their sound can be muffled by surrounding noise. The Lyric hearing aid created by Insound Media, of Newark, California, fits deep in the ear canal, close to the eardrum, and can be worn 24 hours a day for months at a time. In addition to the high-quality sound, the devices promise users worry-free showers and comfortable sleep. The company is experimenting with a subscription-revenue model that covers replacements, upgrades, and visits to the audiologist; Insound Media charges an annual fee of $1,650, compared to the one-time price tag of $2,000 for most other hearing aid models.
Hoping to become the first company to effectively treat spinal cord injury, InVivo Therapeutics, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has developed a biodegradable polymer. The substance can be injected into the spinal cord and forms a "scaffold" that reduces cell death and helps to support and repair the spinal cord. If the treatment works, it could dramatically reduce the lifetime cost of caring for those suffering from paralysis, which can rise to more than $3 million per patient.
Interstitial cystitis – also known as painful bladder syndrome – has been known to drastically decrease a sufferer's quality of life. But developers at Taris Biomedical, in Lexington, Massachusetts, are hoping their treatment, a tiny "pretzel" made of silicone that floats in the bladder and releases local anesthetic, will help relieve the chronic pain and frequent urination patients endure. The company, which raised $15 million in June, hopes to begin trial treatments in early 2010.
Most effective osteoporosis treatments require daily hormone injections. MicroCHIPS of Bedford, Massachusetts, has created an implantable device that can deliver a drug dosage once a day, without fail, and can store as much as a year's worth of treatment in its reservoirs. The company, funded by a consortium of venture funds, hopes to build tiny "rescue" devices into its product that could sense low glucose levels in diabetics and even alert medical personnel to dangerously low levels of blood sugar.
Up to 75 percent of stroke survivors suffer from partial paralysis of an arm, and only 15 percent of them regain full control of their limbs through rehabilitation. So Charlestown, Massachusetts-based Myomo – through its new technology platform NeuroRobotics – created a bionic arm, which attaches to the paralyzed arm like a brace, and uses electronic feedback to help a patient regain movement in the affected muscles. The price will be $5,000 or less.
Knee-replacement surgery can be a painstaking process for both the patient and the surgeon. But rather than replacing an entire knee joint, ConforMIS has developed a procedure in which the joint can be scanned and "resurfaced," so that patient-specific problems can be addressed. Surgeons using the process can complete knee operations in 30 percent less time, the company says. With $80 million in funding, the Burlington, Massachusetts-based company also holds patents to apply the technology to the hip, ankle, and spine.
Arteries taken from one part of a patient's body during a surgical procedure to, say, remove a blood clot from the leg are sometimes damaged. In efforts to reduce the failure of artery grafts, Organovo, based in San Diego, is developing organ-printing technology that can create “tissue on demand” to rebuild blood vessels. The company’s bioprinter can produce three-dimensional patterns that grow into organs, providing surgeons with fresh blood vessels. Backed by a $5 million National Science Foundation grant, the company is planning to begin studies of the artificial tissue in lab animals this year.
The companies Corventis and Cardiac Concepts both aim to monitor the vitals of heart patients, so as to decrease post-operative heart failure. The AVIVO system by San Jose, California-based Corventis attaches to the chest like a large bandage, and transmits information wirelessly to doctors who are miles away, saving the patient money by reducing hospital visits. The fee for weekly service is about $400 to $700. Meanwhile, Cardiac Concepts, in Minnetonka, Minnesota, implants a device in the body that tracks changes in respiration; in particular, it is intended to prevent sleep apnea-induced heart problems. Think of it as a mechanical "nudge" from a bedmate when snoring too loudly.