Researcher Uses Liposuction Fat, Hair To Treat Diabetics’ Wounds
By LaTina Emerson
One person’s unwanted fat and clippings of hair could be another person’s cure for a debilitating condition.
A Georgia State University researcher is working on a treatment for diabetic foot ulcer, a complication of diabetes, using stem cells from human fat and keratin extracted from human hair.
Dr. Tom Barrows, the executive vice president at Cell Constructs Inc., a start-up company in the university’s CollabTech biotechnology business incubator, is developing a product called ProgenaGraftTM, a new type of cell therapy for healing chronic wounds.
Diabetic foot ulcer is a chronic wound that develops in the lower extremities of patients with diabetes because of the lack of blood supply and nerve sensation. Fifteen percent of these patients will develop this wound during their lifetime.
Many diabetic foot ulcers never heal and ultimately lead to bone infections, amputation or death. Barrows said there are 1,000 amputations a week in the United States because of complications of diabetes. Each year in the U.S. it costs about $5 billion to care for people who suffer this complication.
“This is more of a problem than anyone wants to admit or recognize,” said Barrows. “Diabetic foot amputation is the largest cause of amputation, second only to car accidents. What is the best way to reduce healthcare costs? To solve healthcare problems with therapies that are economical.”
Cell Constructs has applied for a patent for ProgenaGraftTM, which replaces the damaged tissue and accelerates healing in the wound through regrowth of healthy tissue.
There are a few cell therapy products on the market. Hilal Arnouk, who partnered with Barrows , said ProgenaGraftTM is unique because it uses stem cells from human fat, also known as human adipose-derived stem cells. Other treatments use skin cells, which have a very short lifetime, he said.
Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. Human adipose-derived stem cells, which have wound healing properties, can help the body grow new blood vessels and repair surrounding tissue.
For pre-clinical trials, Cell Constructs is collecting human fat from plastic surgeons’ clinics, where the material removed during liposuction is normally discarded as medical waste. An institutional review board has approved the collection.
Discarded hair is also a key ingredient. Keratin extracted from hair is used to create small gel balls or microspheres that keep the stem cells in contact with the wound. The microspheres are ideal because they settle into close contact with irregular wound surfaces and are biodegradable.
“These are tiny spheres of protein that are hardly visible by the naked eye, but each one of them will be loaded or covered with stem cells. Then, they are administered into the wound site,” said Arnouk, who teaches biology at Georgia State. “The goal is to regenerate normal tissue there and cure the wound once and for all.”
ProgenaGraftTM has shown accelerated healing of wounds in mice with diabetes. Cell Constructs plans to test the technology in pigs because the larger animals are closer to human size.
After optimizing the dosage in pigs, which could take six months to a year, the company will pursue clinical trials in humans and submit an Investigational New Drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The company is also experimenting with using stem cells derived from hair follicles to see if they are more effective than those extracted from fat.
Barrows, whose wife has Type II diabetes, hopes to eventually license ProgenaGraftTM so the product can be made widely available. He knows that cases of diabetic foot ulcers will increase as the number of people suffering from diabetes is expected to double over the next few decades.
“Diabetes is all around us,” he said. “It would be wonderful if I was smart enough to have ideas on how to cure diabetes, but what I can do is what I know how to do. That is to create biomaterials for curing diabetic complications related to wound healing.”
Photos of Tom Barrows (at top) and Hilal Arnouk taken by Meg Buscema.