Bionymer Develops Smart Materials to Advance Medical Research

Biology, chemistry, and electricity work together to keep the human body functioning.

The more that researchers and clinicians can access real-time information about how these systems operate together, the more quickly they can analyze and respond to what is happening under a patient’s skin—especially when something isn’t going right.

Bionymer, a Columbus-based company, is commercializing novel smart materials. These materials give researchers and clinicians unique, real-time information by converting the body’s biochemical signals directly into electrical signals. Bionymer then measures, processes, and reports these signals in milliseconds.

Tracking Cell Communications Via Ion Transfer

The body’s nervous system uses electricity to send signals throughout the body and to the brain.

That electricity comes from electrolytes, elements in our body such as sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium. When an electrolyte is dissolved in fluid, such as blood, it produces a voltage through ionic gradients (atoms with either a positive or negative electrical charge).

“Every cell uses ions to communicate. They either absorb or release ions,” Robert Northcutt, Bionymer CEO said. “Ion transfer regulates every process the body does.”

As long as the ion concentration in the blood stays in balance, the body functions properly. But when ions become imbalanced—say the body has too much or too little potassium or too much or too low sodium, severe problems can occur.

Kidney failure is a common cause of electrolyte imbalance. Blood pressure can rise too high or drop too low. Too much potassium can cause the heart to fail. The supply of oxygen to the brain can be cut off, resulting in a stroke. Blood clots can form.

“We have developed sensors that tap into key areas of the body to monitor and report on those processes as they occur,” Northcutt said. “We have formed small wires covered with the smart polymer. Bionymer has designed a system that allows simple sensor placement inside the body using tools familiar to clinicians. We can place the sensors anywhere in the body a clinician would want to analyze—into muscle tissue around the heart, in blood flowing through veins, anywhere a clinician or researcher can access that has electrolytes.”

The conducting polymer, which is both electrically and ionically conductive, functions in water, plasma, or virtually any ion-rich media with a self-calibrating mechanism that tunes itself to capture accurate data. The electronic data is processed through an algorithm that gives results instantaneously without further tests or calculations.

“There are other methods of determining ion strength, but none work inside the body and none work in real-time,” said Northcutt.

What’s Next for Bionymer

 “Initially, we are marketing to people who do research in nephrology and cardiology,” said Andy Tomaswick, Bionymer COO. “From a technology development standpoint, we are expecting to get a prototype device by the end of the year. We are working with three contract manufacturing partners and anticipate testing with life science partners by the first quarter of next year.”

Consider advances in research and potential treatment of conditions like blood clots, kidney disease, or cardiovascular distress: instead of sending blood work to the lab, researchers or medical practitioners could insert one of Bionymer’s minimally-invasive sensors and transmit information on the spot.

If a clinician has that information while doing surgery or correcting medications, they can tune whatever procedure they are performing or adjust dosages to prevent secondary issues from complicating the patient’s primary condition. This is especially important with conditions like kidney failure, where roughly 50 percent of patients are either over or under corrected.

“We already have beta users who are interested in purchasing devices and probes,” Tomaswick said. “Companies that sell electrophysiology tools and sensors into this market have expressed interest in carrying our product as part of their catalogue and distribution processes.”