ENG Researchers Awarded $1.59M to Advance New Treatment for Surgical Adhesions

in NEWS, Spotlight Research

New funding will help develop a non-invasive method using targeted microbubbles

By Liz Sheeley

Adhesions, better known as scar tissue, are a long-known side effect of surgery. But when they form after abdominal surgery, adhesions can sometimes cause pain and further health complications. And doctors cannot predict whether a patient will develop adhesions that cause painful symptoms.

Two ENG researchers, Professor Joyce Wong (BME, MSE) and Associate Professor R. Glynn Holt (ME), have discovered a possible non-invasive, preventative treatment to keep abdominal adhesions from forming after surgery. With a new grant from the National Institutes of Health for phase II of their project, the pair hope to continue the work to develop this for clinical use one day.

Microbubbles are a relatively new innovation in the medical field and have been used for diagnostic imaging with ultrasound and drug delivery. Wong and Holt’s original idea was to see if microbubbles could be used to non-invasively diagnose surgical adhesions. Funded by the Dean’s Catalyst Award (DCA) in 2015, their research showed surprising results.

“We are grateful to the College because this work was seeded by a DCA and it successfully led to phase I and now phase II funding,” says Wong. Both phases are a collaboration with Nanovalent Pharmaceuticals, a small company that will be licensing the technology.

After injecting the microbubbles into rats with abdominal adhesions, using ultrasound to image where the bubbles localized, they discovered that the microbubbles had destroyed the adhesions.

“Bubbles can destroy just about anything depending on how hard they collapse,” says Holt. “We’re not sure if that’s the mechanism behind this, but it’s definitely a possibility.”

In addition to examining that question, this new phase of the study will also look at the optimal formulation for the microbubble shell and the most effective frequency and duration of the ultrasound.

“We’re hoping down the line that this treatment could be used as prescriptive, and be performed maybe 24 hours or so after surgery to prevent adhesions from forming and break up early adhesions,” says Wong.