Narrowed arteries can restrict blood flow to the heart. One treatment involves inserting a stent – a small mesh tube – inside the artery to widen it. However, existing stents have issues that affect performance.

Two researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have received a four-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to evaluate a safer, longer-lasting stent design, using techniques licensed by the UAB Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship by spin-off company UAB Endomimetics LLC.

Ho-Wook Jun, is the principal investigator of the grant, and Dr. Brigitta Brott is the co-investigator. They are co-founders of Endomimetics and have worked together for a decade to develop their bionanomatrix material for coating stents to improve the treatment of heart disease. Their material has other potential applications in patients with brain aneurysms, as well as in dialysis patients and patients with percutaneous osseointegrated prostheses.

“This public-private partnership between UAB and Endomimetics is a great example of how publicly funded research can be translated into tangible products and services that will dramatically improve the lives of people in Alabama and around the world.” , said Jun. At UAB, Jun is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Brott is an interventional cardiologist and professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Diseases. At Endomimetics, Jun is Scientific Director and Brott is Chief Medical Officer.

Jun and Brott stated that bare metal stents are limited by further proliferation of cells inside the stent, called neointimal hyperplasia, which is caused by vascular injury during stent implantation. This can cause a blockage inside the stent.

To reduce this, drug-eluting stents, coated with antiproliferative agents that target neointimal hyperplasia, have been developed. However, recent studies have revealed that the dose of anti-proliferative drugs clinically used for these stents can cause serious adverse effects.

The alternative bionanomatrix stent coating developed by the UAB researchers has been successfully tested in rabbits, Jun said.

“A major problem with the study of stents is that results derived from experimentation using studies in healthy animal models – with or without balloon injury – do not adequately predict the problems encountered when stents are used in large number of human patients,” Jun said. “Thus, there is a critical need to develop an innovative strategy for the coating and evaluation of stents in a model of atherosclerosis, in order to address the adverse effects of clinical doses of anti-proliferative drugs and overly optimistic results during evaluation of stents in a healthy rabbit model.

With NIH funding, UAB researchers plan to develop new engineered artery sheets with characteristics of narrowed or hardened arteries. Then, the effectiveness of the bionanomatrix coating can be compared to commercial bare metal stents and commercial drug-eluting stents using the engineered artery sheets and in rabbits on a high fat diet.

“If successful, this novel dual-action bionanomatrix strategy will advance the field by overcoming the current limitations of bare metal stents and drug-eluting stents. It will also demonstrate the development of an improved in vivo model for stent evaluation,” Jun said. The global coronary stent market is worth approximately $8 billion.

UAB Biomedical Engineering is a joint department of the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine and the UAB School of Engineering. Medicine is a department of the Heersink School of Medicine.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.