HOUSTON – (Nov. 9, 2023) – Rice University and its Biotech Launch Pad today announced a peer-reviewed publication in Nature Communications detailing the development of a novel and rechargeable device — an electrocatalytic on-site oxygenator (ecO2) that produces oxygen to keep cells alive inside an implantable “living pharmacy,” potentially improving the outcomes of cell-based therapies.
The implantable “living pharmacy” is a device in development at the Rice Biotech Launch Pad with the goal to autonomously administer and regulate therapeutics within an individual. The study entitled, “Electrocatalytic on-site oxygenation for transplanted cell-based-therapies,” can be viewed on the Nature Communications website.
“Oxygen generation is achieved here through basic water splitting and precisely regulated using a battery powered and wirelessly controllable electronic system; however, the next iterations of this device will have wireless charging, which means that this could potentially last the full life of the patient,” said Omid Veiseh , associate professor of bioengineering and faculty director of the Rice Biotech Launch Pad . “This breakthrough technology has the potential to reshape the landscape of disease treatment and the future of research and development in the field of cell-based therapies. We are working toward advancing this technology into the clinic to bring it one step closer to those in need.”
Cell-based therapies hold great potential to treat many different types of diseases including endocrine disorders, autoimmune syndromes, cancers and neurological degeneration. However, a significant challenge has been ensuring the survival of these cells for extended periods to produce effective treatments. Oxygen is a limiting factor supporting cell viability and potency, and the longer the cells remain healthy, the more they can independently produce therapeutics for the body. Current treatment options to deliver oxygen to cells require bulky equipment and have limited oxygen production and regulation.
The study details how the ecO2 device addresses these issues through its ability to produce a controlled amount of oxygen using electrochemical water electrolysis or water splitting. The water splitting occurs more efficiently by using the electrocatalyst, sputtered iridium oxide. The iridium oxide catalyzes water splitting at low voltage to deliver oxygen using the already available water in biofluids to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen. By utilizing the water from the biofluids, the researchers were able to produce oxygen and avoid the production of harmful byproducts including chlorine and hydrogen peroxide.
The ecO2 device sustained the viability of cells for 10 days within the implant, and the experiments were terminated at 21 days with no loss of viability or function. In contrast, without the ecO2 device only around 20% of cells remained viable after 10 days with the added concern that their ability to secrete therapeutic agents would likely diminish before that point. The ecO2 device generated enough oxygen to keep densely packed cells (60,000 cells per cubic millimeter) alive in hypoxic conditions in vivo and in vitro. These results show the device can be readily integrated into bioelectronic platforms, enabling high cell loadings in smaller devices with broad applicability.
“Our device can be used to improve the outcomes of cell-based therapies, which use biological cells to treat diseases or injuries in the body,” said Northwestern University’s Jonathan Rivnay , who co-led the study. “Cell-based therapies could be used for replacing damaged tissues, for drug delivery or augmenting the body’s own healing mechanisms, thus opening opportunities in wound healing and treatments for obesity, diabetes and cancer, for example. Generating oxygen on site is critical for many of these ‘biohybrid’ cell therapies: We need many cells to have sufficient production of therapeutics from those cells, thus there is a high metabolic demand. Our approach would integrate the ecO2 device to generate oxygen from the water itself.
“It is as simple as a chemistry 101 experiment we all did as kids,” Rivnay said. “You pass electricity through water, and bubbles form at the metals, and the water splits into oxygen and hydrogen. We are doing this but in a smarter manner. Using unique materials allows more efficient and low energy production of oxygen. And in our device, we aren’t forming oxygen bubbles. We operate our devices under conditions where the oxygen generated is dissolved in water — without bubbles. We believe this technology will enable smaller, more potent cell therapy and regulated cell therapy devices. Our goal is to translate this technology to clinic. We are currently exploring various disease models.”
Rivnay co-led the study with Tzahi Cohen-Karni , professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). The study’s co-first authors are Northwestern’s Abhijith Surendran and CMU’s Inkyu Lee.
This research supports the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) cooperative agreement worth up to $33 million to develop the implantable “living pharmacy” to control the human body’s sleep/wake cycles. Northwestern leads the collaboration with Rice to produce the therapeutics on site within the device.
About the Rice Biotech Launch Pad
The Rice Biotech Launch Pad is a Houston-based accelerator focused on expediting the translation of the university’s health and medical technology discoveries into cures. This initiative is designed to help advance internally discovered platform technologies from concept to clinical studies and commercialization. The Rice Biotech Launch Pad will identify and support highly differentiated projects while driving the expansion of Houston as a world-class medical innovation ecosystem. The accelerator will bring together local researchers with a network of industry executives. For more information, please visit https://biotechlaunchpad.rice.edu/.
This content was originally published here.