Healing wounds from burns and trauma can be a complicated and lengthy process. Medical materials based on actual tissue can make a remarkable difference, and that’s the aim of StemSys, founded by Clay and Danielle Fette.
Clay has chemical engineering bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rose-Hulman and more than two decades of experience in regenerative medicine, and Danielle is an RN, who also has more than 20 years of experience in the field. Their company’s multi-tissue platform is made from multiple extracellular matrix tissue sources, and when used in wound treatment, the product induces the body’s own healing capabilities to repair and regenerate damaged tissue.
Making this amazing product has required a painstaking process. “We have to process the tissue in a certain way to remove any cells and any bacteria from the material,” Clay Fette says. “Traditionally, that has been a manual process, and I wanted to automate it. In order to do that I needed to find a place that could build what I wanted, which was a tissue washing machine, to put it simply.”
Fette didn’t have to go any further than his own alma mater to find that place: Rose-Hulman Ventures. He points out that the device he wanted to create would involve numerous disciplines: mechanical, electrical, computer, software and chemical engineering. “Using Rose-Hulman Ventures is ideal for us as a small business, as it would be impossible for us to hire the expertise for a multidisciplinary project such as this.”
The challenge sounds deceptively simple, similar at a high level to a clothes washing machine. The goal, Fette says: “Input the material, initiate the program and it then performs the entire process we need without an operator needing to do anything.” Of course, there is no Whirlpool to make this kind of washing machine for tissue, no Tide detergent to pour in.
That’s where the multidisciplinary experts at Rose-Hulman Ventures stepped in, earlier this year. It took only a matter of months to develop a functional prototype, Fette says. “It has a mixing vessel and reagent vessel, and tissue is added. The program adds in different reagents, performs agitation, drains and rinses, and performs other steps in the process. It’s a pretty amazing piece of equipment.” With a prototype successfully created, the next step is to build a commercial, medical-grade machine that can be used in actual production, and that work is proceeding nicely.
Automation is a common goal in any production process, because it can speed up manufacturing and reduce labor costs. Fette says the tissue washing machine from Rose-Hulman Ventures succeeds in those business-oriented regards, but that’s only part of the story. “By automating the process, it’s actually better for the product. The equipment that Ventures built is more efficient at performing the disinfection than the manual process was. The material is cleaner and has less processing residuals. It makes a better product.”