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Dr Emma Wade

Smart biologicals to enhance internal healing (2022)

Project Summary

Dr Wade’s research on the molecular mechanisms of rare genetic defects led to the identification of the unique properties of a protein that is critical for the strength of the internal tissue layer designated “fascia”. 

In this project, she aims to capitalise on this focused biological activity to develop an innovative, ready-to-use, easy-to-handle, sterile and resorbable surgical bandage that promotes fascial regeneration in almost all patients. This fills an unmet need in surgical interventions as fascia regeneration is fundamental to the success of all surgical procedures that enter the abdomen or chest.

Failed internal healing affects approximately 10% of surgeries (~15,000 a year in New Zealand) resulting in incisional hernia, infection risk, further surgeries, longer recovery periods and greater costs to the healthcare system. A biological agent that strengthens internal healing post-surgery would prevent these unwanted outcomes.

Dr Wade’s expertise in molecular biology, in-vitro and in-vivo models, and protein manufacture, complements the drug delivery and surgical expertise of my collaborating team. This will enable the development of a safe and effective surgical product.

In the first 6 months of her project, she successfully expressed and purified a recombinant version of her protein of interest, and developed a method of scale-up to enable the production of 1-2 mg of protein per preparation. Dr Wade has worked with her collaborators in the School of Pharmacy, University of Otago and at the Ferrier Institute, Victoria University of Wellington to couple her protein of interest with key molecules in the lab. Finally, Dr Wade has been optimising her in-vitro and in-vivo models to streamline protein testing in the next part of her project. 

In the next 6 months, she will perfect methods to concentrate her protein and couple it with milligram amounts of carrier molecule. Dr Wade will then use these formulations to engineer flexible sheets of material containing her protein. These sheets will be tested in-vitro for protein release and bioactivity, before being tested in an animal model of abdominal surgery. 

Dr Wade’s proposal builds on knowledge of connective tissue composition, drug delivery, and surgical technique beyond routine research to formulate an innovative therapeutic that will solve a global issue.