Next time you get a cut or scrape with significant bleeding, it is quite unlikely you would want to apply a mollusk to the wound. But before you dismiss such a treatment, you might want to check with Mechanical Engineering Professor Jianyu Li.
His creation – supported by the McGill Innovation Fund (MIF) - is a new type of micro-structured bio-adhesive, called ClickClot. Inspired by the secretions of binary mussels, the new type of dressing can potentially meet the clinical challenges of uncontrolled hemorrhages.
His inspiration for the invention was, like so many great discoveries, accidental. One day while playing with his 6-year-old son, the boy fell and hit his head on the corner of a table. The fall resulted in a 3-cm long wound that was bleeding heavily. Despite compression and applying layer after layer of gauze, he failed to stop the hemorrhage and had to call paramedics. The incident left him wondering why there weren’t better hemostatic materials readily available at home.
Looking into the subject more deeply, he perceived a true need: uncontrolled hemorrhage is a leading cause of preventable death worldwide, accounting for nearly 2 million deaths annually.
Against this background, the life-saving potential of a new, more efficient bioengineered material to stop heavy blood loss is enormous. This is due to traditional hemostatic agents being affected by rapid pressurized blood flows which impair their integrity and the adhesion of bio-adhesive sealants.
“This provided me with a personal motivation to want to move this technology forward,” Professor Li explains. "We tried to engineer a new biomaterial which can be actively integrated to repair the human body.”
Their attempts at creating this new material were so successful in the lab he decided to launch a business to commercialize this technology: ClickClot. The company is based on the research generated by his team to ensure that the life-saving potential of the technology can one day reach the public.
The tech from the ocean floor
The researchers derived their inspiration for the technology from nature. Li explains: “We draw insight from marine creatures which secrete bio-adhesives to stick to the bottom of the ocean and protect themselves from their predators.”
In particular, he examined the properties of mussel plaques. These bottom-dwelling mollusks secrete bio-adhesives composed of microporous structures infused with functional liquids. Professor Li describes it is like a sponge. “You can view our product as a sponge which can stick to the tissues in your body; it will absorb and induce clotting of the blood, all without the need for compression or a large force.”
Their solution is made up of a macroporous hemostatic xerogel (i.e., a sponge) infused with functional liquids. The xerogel is biodegradable and serves to promote blood coagulation and the removal of fluids, including whole blood. The functional liquids help with adhesion and are antibacterial.
Preliminary testing has revealed the significantly improved hemostatic efficacy and biocompatibility of their new technology as compared with clinically used equivalents. These results drove Li to keep pushing the technology forward.
“We got great results from the animal study” says Li, “Even better results than comparable commercial products, which strengthened my commitment to bring the technology into the real world.”
Closing the gap to the market
Speaking about his journey to close the gap from lab to the market, Li highlights the help he has received from the university to make this project possible, especially that of the McGill Innovation Fund.
“The flexibility of the funding we have received, the support from mentors and the connections we have been able to make through the MIF are invaluable,” he says.
Li has been able to hire a summer intern through MIF to help conduct additional market analysis and further their business development plan.
Currently, the company is focused on finalizing their designs and completing a market analysis, with aims to secure funding to commence clinical trials by the beginning of 2024. Further ahead, they intend to develop a range of products to control hemorrhages in various settings. While products for commercial applications will come first, they are determined to meet the higher standard of usability performance that will be required for surgical or military uses.
“Our ultimate goal here as engineers is not just to publish papers or file for patents, it’s to bring this technology into the world and to make a real impact,” he states. “But there is still a gap between the lab and the market, and I feel the need as a researcher to take that step and close the gap.”
All clot, no pressure
ClickClot’s technology presents clear advantages when compared to what is currently available on the hemostatic agent market. Starting with the application of the hemostatic agent to a wound, mechanical hemostatic agents necessitate the removal of blood from the surface it is being applied in order to form reliable adhesion. This is not the case for ClickClot which can be applied to the wound, absorb blood and stick to skin without any pressure.
Indeed, this is where the name of the company comes from, referring to the ability of their product to “click” into place and rapidly stop the bleeding.
The product is also superior to conventional gauze compression or sutures thanks to its ease of removal. Once traditional hemostatic methods are applied, they can be painful to remove or require a secondary procedure to be carried out in a hospital. ClickClot on the other hand is biodegradable, allowing the body to absorb the material without the need for secondary surgery. ClickClot’s binary technology not only staunches blood flow it also starts the healing process.
“We hope to combine the dual functions of homeostasis and regeneration, currently products on the market only take care of the former but in terms of regeneration they do little, sometimes even impede, the process,” explains Li. “We hope to combine these two jobs into a kind of next generation regenerative homeostatic.”
Uncontrolled bleeding may be a leading cause of preventable death worldwide, especially in pre-clinical settings but Professor Li’s innovation could be the difference between life and death – in just one click.
This article was originally published on the McGill Innovation Fund (MIF)