UC Irvine (UCI) startup Cartilage Inc., a Wayfinder team, recently received a $256,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) phase one Small Business Innovation Researcher (SBIR) grant. The funds will be used to develop their latest product, a special injectable cartilage glue designed to fix Cartilage’s and other commercially available implants and to help with the integration and healing of cartilage implants into surrounding tissues. This is the second SBIR grant the team has received in less than six months.
“NSF funds early-stage disruptor technologies,” said Kiley Athanasiou, MBA, Cartilage Inc. co-founder and CEO. “It’s exciting for us because it is a seal of approval from a second federal funding agency and it really catapults us into another category of federally funded medtech startups.”
In addition to the NSF grant, in September 2020 the team received a National Institutes of Health phase one SBIR grant to conduct research on their engineered cartilage implant technology, Hyaleon®.
“It’s great that we have two agencies that fund different things. The preliminary data for our cartilage glue looks really promising to help implants integrate into surrounding cartilage. We’re very early on in the developmental process and so we think it has really great promise and this grant will help us explore that,” said Wendy Brown, Ph.D., Cartilage Inc. co-founder and co-inventor.
Cartilage’s glue, a technology based on UCI intellectual property, will help make their implants more adhesive in addition to facilitating the long-term healing process.
“It’s greatly needed because right now what surgeons are using is called fibrin sealant and it is indicated clinically to basically stop bleeding after other surgeries, like closing up blood vessels,” said Brown. “It’s not really designed to be an adhesive for cartilage, and it doesn’t work really well, but it’s the only thing currently available.”
The team realized the injectable glue’s potential impact through UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s I-Corps program, a NSF-funded market discovery program that helps campus innovators broaden the impact of their research, where they interviewed orthopedic surgeons.
“One of the common things they said is: ‘If I could just inject something into a defect and have it make cartilage, that would be perfect,’ that is my ultimate dream,” said Brown. “With this cartilage glue, we’re hoping that it’s going to be an injectable product that can integrate with our cartilage implant, but hopefully someday we will be able to use it as an injectable filler for very small cartilage defects or early-stage damage.”
Learn more about Cartilage Inc.
Main Graphic: Kate Wokowsky, UCI Beall Applied Innovation