A lab like no other

It's a lab like no other, and some day what's happening inside it could change or even save your life.

Right now a big group of doctors and scientists are creating what could be medicine's next big thing or things. The lab is called the KarpLab.

Geckos may make you think of TV ads, but inside this lab, the little lizards' feet are the inspiration for a new innovation, a nanoscale adhesive.

"That can almost serve as like a duct tape or like a band aid but for internal procedures,” explains Jeffrey M. Karp, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine and Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard Medical School, the Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Biomaterials and Stem-Cell-Based Therapeutics Brigham & Women's Hospital.

It could be used after a variety of surgeries to prevent leaking or bleeding and to heal hearts after a heart attack.

Chemical and Bioengineer Doctor Jeffrey Karp runs the KarpLab.

"We have chemists, material scientists, immunologists,” says Dr. Karp.

While a lot of labs focus on a particular technology or disease, at the lab, they're tackling a ton.

Inspired by oil drilling, some needle have a clutch, so it never overshoots its mark.

They are designing gel that is designed to be injected into an arthritic joint and wait to attack pain.

"And only in the presence of inflammation, when there's lots of enzymes that are secreted this gel will then disassemble and release the payload," explains Dr. Karp.

The gel could also be used to prevent brain tumors from regrowing. A nanoparticle cream could help you cope with a nickel allergy.

The doctor is one of millions who suffer from it. You just rub it into your skin.

"It'd be able to capture the nickel and prevent it from penetrating the skin," says Dr. Karp.

A small sampling of the work this dedicated team is doing right now to make your life better and maybe longer.

Money from the American Heart Association and the Brain Science Foundation has helped to pay for some of the research at the lab.

Doctor Karp tells us the nickel allergy cream could be available to the public within a few years. Some of the other devices and technologies could take a lot longer to hit the market.


REPORT: MB # 3513

ABOUT NANOTECHNOLOGY: Nanotechnology is science at the size of individual atoms and molecules: objects and devices measuring mere billionths of a meter, smaller than a red blood cell. At that size scale, materials have different chemical and physical properties than those of the same materials in bulk, because quantum mechanics is more important. For example, carbon atoms can conduct electricity and are stronger than steel when woven into hollow microscopic threads. Nanoparticles are already widely used in certain commercial consumer products, such as suntan lotions, "age-defying" make-up, and self-cleaning windows that shed dirt when it rains. One company manufactures a nanocrystal wound dressing with built-in antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. On the horizon is toothpaste that coats, protects and repairs damaged enamel, as well as self-cleaning shoes that never need polishing. Nanoparticles are also used as additives in building materials to strengthen the walls of any given structure, and to create tough, durable, yet lightweight fabrics.

GECKO TO THE RESCUE: Geckos can scale smooth walls at a whopping three feet per second, and in last decade scientists have begun to understand how these little lizards can defy gravity. It turns out that gecko feet have millions of little projections, called setae, which split into hundreds of projections shaped like spatulas. Each of these tips can attach to smooth surfaces by taking advantage of intermolecular forces, which are individually relatively weak and unstable but can combine to generate enough force to allow a gecko to hang upside-down from one foot.

Professor Jeff Karp, an investigator in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program and his collaborators had made a new polymer called poly(glycerol-co-sebacate acrylate), created a mold for the polymer using the same processes that are used to make computer chips, utilized some tricks to make the polymer biodegradable and nearly invisible to the immune system, and tested these nifty band-aids on pig intestine in the lab and in the peritoneal cavity of live rats. Since the gecko-inspired adhesive does not require repeated re-alignment of the tissue being patched together, it can reduce the time a patient spends in surgery. Additionally, it can be utilized to connect pieces of the colon in patients with Crohn's disease, or to patch lungs without worrying about air leaks, or even to deliver drugs to parts of a heart that might have died after a heart attack. If all goes well, this bio-inspired adhesive will be found in a hospital near you in less than five years. (Source: karplab.net, MIT)

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Jeffrey M. Karp, PhD
Assistant Professor in Medicine and Health Sciences and Technology
Harvard Medical School
Laboratory for Advanced Biomaterials and Stem-Cell-Based Therapeutics
Brigham & Women's Hospital

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