When surgeons in Spain successfully replaced a young woman’s trachea in 2008, using a tissue-engineered windpipe researchers had grown out of her own stem cells, the world took notice.
David Green, the president of Harvard Bioscience Inc. (NSDQ:HBIO), a Holliston, Mass.-based lab instruments maker, also noticed. Green picked up the phone to call Italy shortly after the news hit the wires; this week the company launched a commercial version of the bioreactor researchers used to grow the bronchus, the ORGANIZER Series Model 100 “In Breath” bioreactor.
Green told MassDevice that, like many people, he read of the surgery in a November 2008 issue of the medical journal The Lancet. Immediately after reading the piece he contacted Sara Mantero and Adelaide Asnaghi from tbioengineering department of the Politecnico di Milano in Italy, the researchers who had developed the bioreactor used to grow the bronchus. Harvard Bioscience exclusively licensed the intellectual property and has a patent pending on the technology.
Green said the 100-year-old company sees a major, long-term opportunity in regenerative medicine, particularly in developing tools used to re-grow organs for transplants.
“My opinion is that it will transform the practice of medicine,” Green told us. “Think of the number of people waiting on the list for organ transplants and realize that there’s another group of patients behind that list that aren’t sick enough to be a candidate for transplant, but who could benefit from an organ transplant, except there’s no room on the list.”
Green called this group the “iceberg below the water,” and cited patients on kidney dialysis as one potential market. If healthy kidneys were more readily available, that demographic might chose the transplant path over long-term dialysis treatments. While he conceded that this is definitely a long-term play, Green hopes to get the bioreactor into the hands of researchers and let them run with it, a method the company has been using since its founding at the outset of the 20th century. HBIO’s corporate ancestor, Harvard Apparatus, was launched in 1901 in the basement of Harvard Medical School as a way to commercialize research under way at the college.