Sunday February 12 2012 / Science & Technology - Entrepreneurs
The rise of Swiss medical engineering firm Labseed is one such success story.
Co-founders Hicham Majd and Dr Giorgio Pietramaggiore met when the former was researching cells responsible for wound repair for his thesis at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) while Pietramaggiore, from Italy, was training to be a surgeon at the University Hospital of Geneva.
“Our research projects were complementary,” says Majd, who has Swiss-Moroccan nationality. “By putting them together, they brought about an interesting technology.”
Contemporary medicine wouldn’t exist without implantable medical devices such as orthopedic, dental and breast implants or pacemakers, for example.
More than a quarter of all breast implants must be removed within four years, because neighboring tissues develop a rigid envelope of fibrous tissue to protect themselves from the foreign body.
On the left is an example of an implant that has contracted due to fibrous tissue growth, on the right is a Mycoat treated implant.
Labseed has developed a protective covering made up of a nanostructured surface and a layer of collagen that will prevent the body from rejecting the implant. Our bodies treat all medical or plastic surgery devices- things like breast implants, knee and hip replacements, pacemakers and insulin pumps - as foreign invaders. We are equipped with a complex surveillance system for recognizing and then eliminating them.
In the empty intracellular space between the device and neighboring tissues, special cells that are in charge of this reaction, called fibroblasts, assemble to deal with the intruder. In certain cases, sometimes even several years after the implant is placed, they surround it and cover it in a very hard capsule. In addition to its unattractive appearance, particularly in breast implants, this reaction can also prevent the implant from functioning properly, such that in a quarter of patients, implants must be removed within four years after implantation.
Labseed's Mycoat combines nano/microtechnology and biochemistry to render foreign bodies virtually "invisible" to cells that are watching out for invaders. Mycoat structures the surface of a medical device or implant at a nanometer-level precision. The implant is then coated with collagen. In this way, neighboring cells are no longer in direct contact with the foreign body but with the nanometer-structured, collagen-coated surface.
To the cells, this protective coating looks like just a new extracellular matrix, which they see as normal tissue. The fibroblasts will thus adhere quite naturally to the object, as if it was an integral part of the patient's body.
“We have developed a particular surface treatment, for which a patent has been registered, that can make implants more biocompatible, enhancing their acceptance and increasing their lifespan,” says Majd. “We wanted to transfer this technology to manufacturers of medical implants and creating a start-up was the best solution to lead our technology to the market.”
Heart pacemakers could also be coated making them less likely to be attacked by the boy's own defences.
To move from the world of research to that of entrepreneurship, Majd went to Boston in 2010 as part of the Venture Leaders Prize and Venture Challenge course, both organised by venturelab.
Financed by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation, venturelab offers individual training for start-ups, including the know-how and contacts required to successfully launch your own company.
Priority is given to start-ups in high-tech fields such as computer science, life sciences and bio- or nanotechnologies and the courses offered are free of charge for anyone demonstrating an innovative and persuasive business idea.
For more information about Labseed, please visit http://www.labseed.com/ and to find out more about venturelab, please visit www.venturelab.ch