Melissa Reynolds’ quest to develop implantable medical devices that the human body will not reject has received a $500,000 boost from the National Science Foundation.
The federal agency has awarded Reynolds, a Colorado State University chemistry professor, a prestigious five-year, $500,000 CAREER grant, to embed chemical catalysts into medical devices that interact with blood to create nitric oxide – a molecule produced by the human body to block infections, prevent dangerous clotting and promote healthy cell growth.
The grant is given to a handful of junior faculty members each year.
“It’s a prestigious award and I am really excited to be selected,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds is well-known for her research on biomaterials, specifically for developing agents that accelerate wound healing and also the body’s acceptance of implanted devices such as stents, catheters and heart valves.
Her research team has successfully created tiny, crystal chemical catalysts known as metal-organic frameworks that create nitric oxide at the surface of a device once its enters the body. The CAREER grant will enable them to continue that research and also better understand how the catalysts work.
“We know they work, but we want to understand the how and the why,” Reynolds said. “That opens up more possibilities for scientific advancements and uses for these catalysts.”
She and her team also will research how to make longer-lasting crystals. Initial prototypes used crystals that were extremely effective but also water soluble so they dissolved over time.
“We want to make the crystals last as long the catheter or stent is in the body, and in some casesthat can be years,” Reynolds said. “With this grant, we’ll be looking at different materials so these crystals last longer.”
The implications of the NSF-funded project are far reaching.
Patients implanted with devices like stents must ingest a bevy of drugs to ensure their bodies do not reject the objects or start marshalling the immune system to attack them. The drugs prevent the blood from clotting, which can be dangerous if a patient receives a deep cut or wound.
“It can be dangerous for patients on these anti-coagulants if they are ever wounded,” Reynolds said. “They bleed out because the body can’t rely on the blood to clot and slow the bleeding. We want to develop materials that do that inside the body so they don’t have to stay on anti-coagulants the rest of their lives.”