Q&A Interview with DiPole Materials Alex Meltzer, PhD, on Trends in Nanotechnology in Life Science Research
There’s a lot of innovation today in electrospinning and nanofibers. How does DiPole Materials fit into this space?
Electrospinning is a technology that’s been around for a hundred years – which really speaks to the robustness of this type of process and in particular to the utility of nanofibers. When we electrospin a material, we end up with a 3D mesh of nanofibers that provide material that has an incredibly high surface area to volume ratio.
Every day we see new applications coming out of academic labs for uses in batteries, air/water filtration, drug delivery, tissue culture, food preservation, etc. Really what the nanofibers are doing is one of three things 1) providing a high surface area to volume ratio to increase the efficiency of a reaction 2) provide a filter or barrier or 3) provide a 3D nanostructure to recreate a particular cellular environment.
Where the innovation comes in, and where Dipole Materials comes in, is entering emerging markets where innovation requires one of those three things to be met.
To your question, DiPole Materials plays in four major areas: one is life science, the second is technical textiles and the third is catalysis. And the fourth, if you will, is in specialty applications.
The reason we are in these spaces is because that’s where we believe nanofibers really move the needle. And to achieve our mission, we have a team of experts in place to fill out those areas nicely. Our goal is to work with our customers to solve their problems using nanofiber-based solutions.
Researchers seem to be in a constant race to keep up with new life sciences tools – what problems does DiPole aim to solve for them? Is there a special dynamic or innovation that DiPole introduces into this equation?
When you look at the spectrum of life science research, it’s a lot of different players that all share a common goal: to impact human health. Whether you’re a drug manufacturer, a biomedical researcher at an institution, or you’re someone like us at DiPole making research tools – really, all of our goals are completely aligned.
What DiPole does is it enables researchers to increase the probability that what they’re doing in the lab translates to the public. And that’s done through our 3D electrospun tissue scaffolds.
Most work being done in labs now is still on a flat, plastic petri dish. These systems are highly unrepresentative of the human body. I certainly can’t think of any part of the body that is either flat or made of plastic. It’s no wonder only about 14 percent of all drugs that begin the clinical trial process actually end up approved. When trying to study a cell, if we could get real cellular responses, rather than the artificial responses that we see now on a petri dish, at an earlier stage, then we would accelerate the pace of developing new therapies and treatments as well as better understand pathologies and underlying mechanisms of disease.
Dipole looks at the duality of this problem and addresses both of those issues through their cell culture BioPapers. BioPapers are 3D nanofiber structures that recreate the extracellular matrix that a cell is accustomed to interacting with in the body. This 3D environment is important because cells respond differently to external stimuli whether it’s some kind of treatment, therapy, drug or signal from a neighboring cell.
And not only do cells respond differently in those 3D environments, but they also interact with each other differently, which is equally as important. Cells exist as a network that communicate and these networks also have an influence on a potential response from stimuli or treatment.
The second way DiPole addresses this flat, plastic dish issue is the fact that we take the plastic and replace it with biologic materials. Our electrospun nanofibers, in fact, are gelatin-based, which is the kind of material a cell would expect to bind to, interact with or communicate with within the body.
When you combined those two properties, you end up increasing the probability that when you do apply a stimulus or a treatment to the cell system, you’re going to see a response that is truly reflective of what you would see once it is tested in patients, greatly improving the successful conversion of lab science to patient-ready therapies.
Looking forward, what are the major trends in drug development, especially relative to DiPole Materials’ work?
Ultimately, increasing the efficiency in the drug development process – which is a function of speed as well as efficacy.
One way DiPole fits into that drug development pipeline is through creation of our scaffolds for high through-put screening of treatments. High through-put screening works by screening a panel of treatments rapidly and in a cost-effective manner.
If you think about testing drugs, the most “real” response is seen in humans during clinical trials. Indeed, if it was safe and efficient for a patient to take a drug still in development, that’s what you’d want to do, But, of course, that’s very unsafe and cost-ineffective.
So, the next step back from human testing is taking a treatment and testing in an animal model. The problem with this is it’s also fairly cost ineffective, and so that’s why you take another step back and you look at tissue culture models. Those are the cheapest.
Unfortunately, tissue cultures are the least representative of a human system. The goal, as always, is to end up with a process where you can do something cheaply, quickly, efficiently and have it be as representative as possible as that end use.
With our 3D gelatin-based scaffolds, DiPole helps close that gap between the distance that exists now starting with a tissue culture plate and hoping to end up impacting human health.