UCI Startup Cartilage Inc. Receives $252K to Address Cartilage Healing

Making Waves
October 20, 2020 By Jackie Connor

UC Irvine startup Cartilage Inc., a Wayfinder team, recently received a phase one $252,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The startup will use this grant to investigate the efficacy and safety of their product Hyaleon®, a scaffold-free, tissue-engineered cartilage implant, capable of healing both large and small cartilage defects.

“The amount of money and years’ worth of research and knowledge that have gone into getting the technology to this point is kind of mind-boggling,” said Kiley Athanasiou, MBA, Cartilage Inc. co-founder and CEO, and wife of the technology’s primary inventor, Kyriacos Athanasiou. “Given that up to one-quarter of the adult population suffers from cartilage ailments, there is a huge business upside and market potential to be able to treat millions and millions of people around the world.”

The team aims to address osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis, which plagues more than 30 million Americans, according to the startup, and results in $89 billion in annual costs to the U.S. economy. Created in UCI’s Driving Engineering & Life-Science Translational Advances @ Irvine Lab, the team will use Hyaleon to repair cartilage tissue in the knee.

“When cartilage cells are expanded in number, they don’t express the genes or proteins that they normally do, so they lose their phenotype,” said Heenam Kwon, Ph.D., Cartilage co-founder and co-inventor. “They don’t produce good cartilage anymore, but we have the technology to generate millions of cells that are still functional.”

Looking ahead, Cartilage Inc. wants to create a product that fully heals damaged cartilage, prevents osteoarthritis in the knee and eliminates the need for people to undergo invasive and painful total knee replacements. Ultimately, it would allow people to heal and live active, pain-free lives.

“Biomedical engineers want to create things that help people, and we really believe in the technology that we have developed and so we really want to push it as far as we can go toward that ultimate goal,” said Wendy Brown, Ph.D., Cartilage Inc. co-founder and co-inventor.

Learn more about Cartilage Inc.

Main Graphic: Kate Wokowsky, UCI Beall Applied Innovation

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