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Biomedical engineering receives $2 million grant to create biodegradable medical stent

Biomedical engineering receives $2 million grant to create biodegradable medical stent

Biomedical engineering receives $2 million grant to create biodegradable medical stent
June 16
22:52 2018

UNT’s biomedical engineering department received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a biodegradable medical stent.

A medical stent is a small tube that is inserted into the arteries to help treat weak and/or narrow veins to improve the flow of blood in the body. This is often used to prevent arteries from bursting, which can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

“All the external contracts and grants contribute significantly to the research activity,” associate biomedical engineering professor Don Zhu said. “This grant will largely help our department to create more research positions.”

UNT moved up from a R2 to a R1 Doctoral University in 2016 and is just one of 115 universities nationwide classified as such. Universities classified as R1 rank highest in levels of research activity. Other elite schools classified as R1 include Stanford University, Boston College and Duke University.

“It’s really exciting research because it’s essentially a new area,”research assistant and PhD candidate Irsalan Cockerill said. “In terms of what it could mean to the university, [this research] could bring a lot of attention to the department.”

Traditional medical stents are typically made of metal and are permanently kept in the body.

“One typical drawback [of metal stents] is the later on stage, restenosis,” Zhu said. “Some of the muscle and other vascular tissues are going to overgrow past the stent to cause the renarrowing, so normally after two years, you’re going to have a blocked vessel again.”

Restenosis occurs after corrective surgery. It closes off or narrows the arteries, meaning the patient that received the stent would have to receive additional corrective surgery to open their arteries again, resulting in more money spent only a year or two after the initial procedure.

“This type of stent [we are developing] is different from traditional ones,” Zhu said. “It will only stay in the vasculature for a limited time. Within one year or two, it is going to disappear, but at the same time, the stent is going to help with the regeneration and remodeling of the vascular.”

The goal is to design this new stent in a way that eliminates the possibility of restenosis.

“There was a biodegradable stent approved by the FDA a couple of years ago, but they stopped it because of the side effects discovered recently, so the product was retracted from the market,” Zhu said. “[A biodegradable stent] is still a blank in the US market.”

Patients that have medical stents in place have to take antiplatelet medications for the rest of their lives to prevent clotting and other reactions from the stent being in their body.

“It will definitely be cheaper because it eliminates the need for secondary surgery as well as putting patients on a lifelong medication,” Cockerill said.

Like any other medication, there are more potential side effects that can come from taking antiplatelet drugs, including indigestion, increased bleeding and bruising under the skin.

“The introduction of a biodegradable polymer used for medical purposes is pretty interesting,” medical laboratory sciences junior Kevin Seeber said. “The fact that it is biodegradable [makes there] seem to be no complications that can arise from that. If you make your stent organically, it just works better for the whole process.”

Medical stents can also be made of plastic, so Seeber feels that the introduction a biodegradable stent has environmental benefits as well.

“We have quite a far array of polymers [for plastics] we use,” Seeber said. “Some of them are used in medical science, some of them are used as everyday plastics like to-go cups, but that is a problem. A lot of these polymers can’t be degraded in the environment.”

Excited for his role in the research, Cockerill sees nothing but positivity and the benefits that could arise from it all.

“It’s exciting for a lot of different reasons,” Cockerill said. “I’m honored to be working on it [and to] potentially help a lot of people. It has true potential to make an impact on people’s lives.”

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Rebecca Najera

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