Transformative Materials for a New Era in Medicine

07/02/2024

An interdisciplinary team of RWTH researchers wants to develop innovative, transformative materials in a Cluster of Excellence and quickly bring them from the lab to the patient to help solve urgent problems in medicine.

 

The mission of the Transformative Medical Materials: Design, Production, Translation (TransMedMat) Cluster of Excellence is to usher in a new era of medicine enabled by the development and application of novel transformative biomedical materials. These materials are able to adapt to biological interfaces and interact with them in the human body. The German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Council of Science and Humanities (WR) have now asked Professor Fabian Kiessling and Professor Laura De Laporte, as spokespersons of TransMedMat, to prepare a corresponding full proposal for funding within the framework of the Excellence Strategy. “We are delighted that we can take the next step together. This is a great success for our entire team of excellent engineers, natural and material scientists, and doctors and allows us to pool our expertise and focus on important social challenges of the future,” explain De Laporte and Kiessling.

RWTH has been a pioneer in transformative medical materials for many years. Technical solutions developed here have contributed to new therapy standards, for example in the field of sensory, cardiovascular, and pulmonary support systems. However, these solutions were typically purely technical in nature and often did not fully adapt to clinical needs. Consequently, current tissue models and implants cannot fully reflect or restore organ functions.

This is where TransMedMat comes in: “To remedy these shortcomings, we aim to develop transformative materials, produce them in a patient-friendly way, and transfer them to the clinic. The novel transformative biomaterials interact dynamically with their environment, which can be achieved by integrating living components into synthetic materials or by specifically programming functionalities into the materials,” explains chemical engineer Laura De Laporte. They can do this by adapting to specific tissue conditions, architectures, and functions, controlling and maintaining the differentiation of interacting cells, adapting to patient-specific requirements and changing in response to internal or external stimuli such as magnetic fields, ultrasound, pH, temperature, and light. TransMedMat specializes in particular in human in-vitro tissue models for basic research and therapy testing as an alternative to animal testing, in biohybrid implants and biontronics (biologinized iontronics) for regenerative medicine, as well as in intelligent drug delivery systems for the targeted release of drugs. Translating these ideas from basic research into clinical application is the main objective, which is to be achieved through a comprehensive engineering approach and the combination of different areas of expertise.

“Ultimately, these transformative biomaterials will uniquely address the greatest unmet clinical needs of our time. In the field of application, previously incurable diseases such as cardiovascular and neurological disorders through to kidney failure, blindness, solid cancers, and blood cancers could be better treated or even cured,” explains doctor and researcher Fabian Kiessling. “TransMedMat’s integrated research and education concept requires new convergent strategies from design to production and regulation to achieve successful clinical translation.”
TransMedMat brings together a highly motivated interdisciplinary and international team that recognizes clinical needs. Novel solutions are created and clinically implemented by experts in product development, prototyping, high-throughput automation, ethics, and regulation. The project partners of the application are the DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT, Mevis), and Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ). The consortium is also planning to work closely with two leading international partners and to set up satellite laboratories at TokyoTech in Japan and the Technion in Israel. The TransMedMat team has already published the concept for the Cluster of Excellence in a special issue of the Advanced Healthcare Materials journal, making it publically available.

RWTH will submit two new cluster proposals in the second phase of the Excellence Strategy. Besides TransMedMat, there is also the CARE proposal, which, in collaboration with TU Dresden, aims to develop climate-friendly building materials, construction principles, and production technologies to improve sustainability in the value chain. There is now time until August 2024 to submit these full proposals. This outline phase is not required for the 57 Clusters of Excellence currently being funded nationwide. The Fuel Science Center (FSC), Matter and Light for Quantum Computing (ML4Q), and Internet of Production (IoP) clusters of excellence are currently involved in research at RWTH. They have already indicated that they wish to submit a follow-up proposal. The decision on which Clusters of Excellence will receive funding will be made on May 22, 2025. The successful Clusters of Excellence will be funded for seven years starting January 1, 2026. “The cluster outlines that have now been selected, together with the existing clusters, reflect the strategic orientation of RWTH very well,” explains Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, Rector of RWTH Aachen University.