A Fetaldisca Portuguese startup made up of researchers from Institute for Research and Innovation in Health of the University of Porto (i3S) with the aim of treating low back pain, will receive 75 thousand euros under the program «Women TechEU»an initiative of the European Commission that aims to promote female entrepreneurship in technology.
The team led by researcher Joana Caldeira, from i3S/INEB, is responsible for developing the first injectable fetal biomaterial to regenerate the intervertebral disc. The work, which has already resulted in a patent application, was developed in the «Microenvironments for New Therapies» group, at i3S, and at the Regenerative Medicine laboratory, at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences Abel Salazar (ICBAS).
During the research process, the team used waste from the livestock industry, which is usually incinerated, and was able to identify the existence of pro-regenerative components in fetal intervertebral discs.
More recently, explains Joana Caldeira, “we demonstrated that, after processing in the laboratory, these tissues have a greater regenerative potential, that is, we verified a “reappearance” of proteins typical of a healthy environment in disc cells cultivated in bovine fetal biomaterials” .
In addition, adds the researcher, “the biomaterial we developed also has the ability to inhibit the formation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis and which is related to the intensity of pain, mobility and quality of life of patients” .
The technology used, clarifies Joana Caldeira, “is based on the processing of fetal tissue in order to eliminate the cells existing in it, maintaining most of the remaining biochemical and structural components characteristic of the stages of embryonic development”.
In a next phase, “we proceed with lyophilization (dehydration at low temperatures), to obtain a long useful life of the material in question and save on the storage process, so that it can be later injected in the form of suspended particles”.
A more effective treatment
With an injectable material, underlines the researcher, “eliminates the need for surgery invasive treatments for patients with low back pain and the intervention, recovery and hospitalization time is reduced”. This biomaterial also has the “advantage of being able to be produced in a simple, safe, accessible and scalable way”.
As for the success of this procedure, Joana Caldeira explains that “the sooner the intervention is carried out, the greater its potential is expected to be, namely being able to provide a preventive effect”.
The team also foresees that this biomaterial may have a broader application in degenerative cartilage diseases that affect other joints, namely the knee, hip and shoulder, among others.
For now, the funding allocated under the «Women TechEU» program will allow the product to be validated in pre-clinical trials and consolidate the business model, in order to facilitate its commercialization.
In addition to Joana Caldeira, the team at Fetaldisc It is also made up of researchers Morena Fiordalisi, a doctoral student at the Biotechealth doctoral program at ICBAS and at the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Porto (FMUP), Raquel Gonçalves, researcher at i3S and professor at ICBAS, and Hugo Prazeres, coordinator of the of Innovation of i3S.
Despite not being fatal, low back pain has a great socioeconomic impact, being the main cause of disability in Portugal and the main cause of loss of years of useful life. This type of pain is often caused by intervertebral disc degeneration that occurs with aging.
Existing treatment options include physiotherapy, medications to control inflammation and pain, or very invasive surgeries, but in most cases, there are no long-term solutions.
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