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The bionic man

“I’ve learned that you’ve got to be in love with the problem, not just the solution.”

What if you could bring together two utterly different branches of science to help people cope better with major illness?

For years DSM has been a leader in both food and nutritional products; as well as performance materials (or polymers) for use in consumer products. Then, several years ago, DSM asked the question: If we can put performance materials in a car, why not a person?

Today, bioresorbable implants from DSM are being used worldwide – not least to deliver drugs inside the human body (for example through heart stents) – lessening the risk of pain and the long recovery times associated with traditional invasive surgery.

The concept is simple: A material implant slowly delivers medication to a specific organ until all the medicine is gone…and then the body simply and safety absorbs it - with no need for surgery or medical procedures.

Polymeric implants to replace eye drops for glaucoma sufferers

Fabulous news for people with heart problems. But what if you’re one of the millions of people suffering from a chronic eye disease like glaucoma.

This is the next big un-met societal need now being tackled by DSM via Jens Thies and his team. If successful, their polymeric implant could eventually eliminate the need for the daily application of eye drops for millions of glaucoma sufferers in Europe alone. But to eliminate that particular headache for patients, the team at DSM had to deal with a few of their own first.

Our big roadblock was that biomaterial resorbs six times slower in the eye than in, say, the heart,” Jens says. “We had to find a way around this new problem, because we couldn’t leave empty implants in the eye for that long.” The question was, how?

Cross-pollinate knowledge


The reason why big companies sometimes struggle to cross-pollinate their knowledge, says Jens, is that you not only need to find the right people (there are more than 2,200 scientists in DSM) but also the right way to communicate with them - and bridge that knowledge gap.

The strong truth is that science is not a common language – certainly when taken to the very, very advanced level that we require. Once we’d found the right colleagues to help us we had to bring the conversation down to an almost high school level – and then bring it back up again.”

It's this ability to connect and then ‘translate’ as he calls it, that has led to human clinical trials now planned for 2016. “We had to understand the disease and anatomy from scratch, and this is where our connections to other DSM scientists and external experts have been invaluable. We all went beyond our comfort zone.”

And it’s this capability that will increasingly define DSM’s ability to produce science that has a positive effect on peoples’ lives. A far-sighted approach indeed...

Today there are millions of people with biomedical materials from DSM inside their bodies – performing all manner of tasks to improve (and in some cases even extend) their quality of life.

In addition to drug delivery systems like the ones being developed by the DSM Biomedical team, our bright science is being used in everything from special coatings for medical instruments to super-strong sutures used to repair ACL’s and rotator cuffs.

In fact, orthopedic sutures made with our Dyneema Purity® fibers have become the gold standard in the industry. Not only is Dyneema Purity fiber officially the world’s strongest fiber, it provides an elasticity and flexibility that compares well to conventional materials – giving patients’ injured body the strength it needs while it heals itself.

Whether addressing cardiovascular, vascular, orthopedic, ophthalmic, urinary, neurologic, pain management, diabetes, diagnostic or women’s health…DSM is helping to redefine the way we think about maintaining the function and health of the human body.

The next goal? Regenerative medicine. Rather than replacing parts of the body …why not develop our bioscience to help the body heal itself?

Just what is the societal benefit of treating glaucoma more effectively?

The disease is the second-largest cause of blindness worldwide and often referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight’ as it comes without warnings or symptoms of pain. In fact in Europe alone it’s estimated that nearly one million people are at risk from blindness – simply because they aren’t taking their medicine properly.

Medication for glaucoma comes in the form of eye drops that need to be taken daily – and accurately. But with the majority of sufferers being 70 years or older, this is by no means an easy task.

The bioresorbable implant, designed by DSM, may help glaucoma sufferers by gradually delivering that medication from within the eye over a minimum period of four months. What you might call a  ‘visionary’ approach.

The people at DSM’s Biomedical team know a great deal about polymers and polymeric implants. Yet glaucoma is a complex disease and the team has needed to work closely with the ophthalmic industry to properly design the optimal solution.

As Jens Thies points out, the benefit of having an R&D organization spanning some 2,200 people is that the broad span of expertise will inevitably ensure that someone has knowledge you need. And even if they don’t…through DSM’s extensive scientific networks they will almost certainly know someone who does.

In the case of glaucoma, the seeds were sown as far back as 2009 – and weren’t exactly planned. A member of Jens’ team attended a biomaterials conference with the goal of connecting with scientists from outside of DSM – and discovered a young scientist at the university of Coimbra named Dr Mădălina Natu.

Several years later, Mădălina is a key part of the DSM team. In fact, her expertise has proved valuable based not only on a PhD thesis in drug delivery to the eye, but also relevant industrial experience – all of which has put her in a great position to help DSM…but most importantly to help glaucoma sufferers.

A connection worth waiting for.