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Georgia Tech Startup Secures Department of Defense Funding for Development of Cell Delivery Technology

A startup company based on technology developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology is creating an efficient, safe and repeatable delivery method that protects cells from death and migration from the treatment site.

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Cell-based therapies have yet to reach their full potential in repairing damaged tissue because of the hostile environment the cells face once injected into the body. A patient’s inflammatory response normally causes the majority of these therapeutic cells to die or migrate away from the area in need of repair.

To address this problem, a startup company based on technology developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology is creating an efficient, safe and repeatable delivery method that protects cells from death and migration from the treatment site. Using microbead technology developed in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, SpherIngenics is producing protective capsules for the delivery of cell-based therapies.

Supported by a broad range of Georgia Tech initiatives, the company recently received a two-year $730,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to continue development of the technology.

“When damaged tissue is being repaired by a cell-based therapy, our microbead technology ensures that cells travel to and remain in the targeted area while maintaining continued viability,” said SpherIngenics CEO Franklin Bost, who is also a professor in the Coulter Department. “This technology has the potential to reduce the cost of treatment by eliminating the need for multiple therapeutic procedures.”

Bost and Coulter Department Professors Barbara Boyan and Zvi Schwartz founded the company in 2007. They worked with the Georgia Tech Research Corporation to license five patents from Boyan’s lab for technology originally developed in the Georgia Tech/Emory Center for the Engineering of Living Tissue (GTEC), which was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Then they secured $450,000, which included a Phase I SBIR grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and grants from the Georgia Research Alliance and the Coulter Foundation.

During Phase I of the SBIR grant, the researchers confirmed that as many as 250 human adult stem cells could remain viable in culture if they were encapsulated in a 200-micron-diameter bead made of natural algae materials and that they could release factors that enhance tissue regeneration.

“For the Phase II SBIR grant, we’re going to examine whether delivering microbeads full of stem cells can enhance cartilage repair and regeneration of craniofacial defects in an animal model,” said Boyan, who is the company’s chief scientific officer. Boyan is also the associate dean for research and innovation in the Georgia Tech College of Engineering, the Price Gilbert, Jr. Chair in Tissue Engineering at Georgia Tech, and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

The company will perform this research in its laboratory space located in the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) biosciences incubator.

The company’s ultimate goal is to commercialize the microbead technology for use in hospitals and by cell therapy companies. To help reach this goal, a group of students wrote a business plan for SpherIngenics last year through the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program.

The team — which included Coulter Department doctoral student Christopher Lee, Georgia Tech MBA students Chris Palazzola and Eric Diersen, and Emory University law students Bryan Stewart and Natalie Dana — won third place in the 2011 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition. The competition, while largely an education experience, provided students an opportunity to develop their venture ideas and present them to a panel of highly experienced judges in the venture capital, technology transfer and legal fields.

“The TI:GER team’s business plan helped us learn about where the market for our technology is right now and where it is going in the future, which is extremely valuable knowledge as we work toward determining the most promising pathway to market,” said Bost.

Additional members of the company include Anthony Nicolini, the principal investigator on the Phase II SBIR grant, and Joseph Williams, clinical director of craniofacial plastic surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Emory University.