BME’s Qazi gets funding and award to pursue research into biomaterials that help repair muscle tissue
Volumetric muscle loss due to injury or disease can lead to scar formation, long-term disability and low quality of life. This is a reality for millions of patients in the United States that sustain traumatic muscle injuries due to invasive surgical procedures, accidents or complex fractures. There are no clinically available treatments to help these patients regenerate their muscle tissue.
One strategy that has been tested in preliminary trials is to implant decellularized biomaterial grafts, made from once-healthy tissues that have been processed to remove live cells and genetic material yet retain beneficial proteins and growth signals.
“These biomaterials provide a physical scaffolding for the cells around the injury site to infiltrate and grow into new functional tissue,” says Taimoor Qazi, assistant professor at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
Unfortunately, since most muscle injuries occur deep under the skin, implantation of traditional biomaterial grafts requires invasive surgical procedures. Another complication is that the shape and size of the biomaterial graft may not always match the anatomy of the injury site, which necessitates additional manipulation and invites complications.
The Qazi Lab at Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering thinks it can overcome these challenges with new biomaterials design. Qazi recently received a $75,000 Junior Investigator grant from the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation (MTF Biologics) to explore a new injectable biomaterial graft for muscle generation. He also received the James Neff Research Award from MTF Biologics, given to the best proposal of the 2023 MTF Biologics Grant Program, for his application titled “Granular grafts as injectable, porous and cell-instructive biomaterials for skeletal muscle regeneration.”
“Our lab is driven by a passion to leverage its interdisciplinary expertise in materials science, stem cells, biomechanics and muscle biology to develop biomedical solutions with translational potential,” Qazi said. “We specialize in granular biomaterials. These are made from the natural biopolymer hyaluronic acid, which we process into microscale particles that are easy to inject with standard syringe needles and catheters.”
Qazi’s lab innovates in the design and fabrication of the microparticles, and their assembly into “granular hydrogels” with the mechanical strength of solids and the “flowability” of liquids. This breakthrough design not only enables minimally invasive delivery but also allows the material to adapt to the shape of the tissue injury, no matter how anatomically irregular it may be.
The funding will enable Qazi’s group to further tune the biomaterials to optimize cell regeneration and function restoration at the site of the injury, through tailoring design parameters like surface chemistry and particle shape.
“I am grateful to MTF Biologics for supporting junior investigators like myself as we look to explore innovative yet translationally relevant biomedical solutions to clinical problems,” Qazi said. “This grant and recognition will support research activities in my lab that span biomaterial fabrication, characterization and testing with relevant cells and in preliminary animal studies.”
Technologies such as biomaterials are increasingly gaining traction in clinical settings, and ones that seamlessly integrate into current clinical and surgical protocols — such as delivery through syringe needles and catheters — will be more readily adopted. “These biomaterials are broadly applicable across various tissues and organs in the body, and are expected to have a major impact on improving the quality of life of patients,” Qazi said.
In the future, biomaterial grafts could be scaled up using mass-manufacturing processes, made commercially available as off-the-shelf products that can be handled by medical professionals and implanted into the patient.
This would be a massive development, given the critical unmet clinical need for therapies to treat musculoskeletal injuries like volumetric muscle loss. Members of the Qazi Lab are poised to deliver these biomedical solutions.