Hess said space is the perfect environment to study key findings in how Tetranite works with patients who have osteoporosis, since it provides conditions that aren’t available on Earth.
The experiment focuses on how osteoblasts grow in microgravity in the cell cultures in the presence of Tetranite and without the material. It will also test commercially available bone graft material. A duplicate of the experiment is being conducted on Earth.
If the results are promising, Hess hopes to do longer tests on the ISS using the space station’s rodent research facility. He said that his company has successfully used Tetranite in rodent tests on Earth to stabilize dental implants and other tests on cow bones to determine the strength of the bond Tetranite provides.
“We currently are doing testing on animals, and our next major milestone would be to get into human clinical trials for study, which we hope to be able to do in the next year or so,” Hess said.
In addition to bone fracture repair, the company sees a potential for multiple orthopedic uses such as spinal fusion and dental repair.
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Hess said he was inspired to create a bone glue when he worked with orthopedic surgeons as part of his previous job as an engineer of medical devices.
“One thing I realized is that surgeons — although they are highly skilled and extremely talented — are like carpenters, putting people back together from muscular-skeletal injuries,” Hess said. “But in a way they are using old technology, using screws to put bones of the human body back together. I knew there had to be a less invasive, more elegant way to do this.”
Hess said surgeons have been looking for a glue that was injectable, that worked in liquids, and was biocompatible — three problems that have been difficult to solve.
“So far, no one has been able to do all three of those things, but we think we have it,” Hess said.
Tetranite was reverse engineered from what sea barnacles secrete to bond themselves to underwater structures and is made from calcium and amino acids.
“The calcium and the amino acids react to form a gluey substance that hardens,” Hess said. “Over time the glue is resorbed by the body. What is unique about our material is that we believe it not only facilitates a hospitable environment for cells to grow and proliferate, but could stimulate activity of the osteoblast cells so there is a net increase in bone mass.”
Hess said the compound’s simple chemistry — small molecules from animal derived proteins — means a body doesn’t reject it. But because it’s synthetic, it can be scaled up at low cost.
Hess named his company Launchpad Medical not because he thought he’d be doing experiments in space one day, but because he wanted to help people “launch” new medical innovations.
But still, the chance for his company to conduct experiments in space provides a unique opportunity.
“The ISS is an exciting resource,” Hess said, “but it seems most people don’t really appreciate what is going on up there.”
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