Enabling rapid healing for joint injuries and wounds using active human collagen — with Spark Fund awardee Dr. Jeffrey Ruberti of the EMERL

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Collagen, a stretchy, fibrous, strand-like protein, is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It is found in everything from our bones and the tendons and connective tissues in our joints, to our skin, hair, and nails. Collagen helps keep our bodies strong and plays a critical role in injury recovery. As we age, the collagen in our bodies starts to break down and we produce less and less new collagen each year, so supplemental sources of collagen are needed to heal from and prevent injuries.

However, many of the collagen sources that are available on the market are inactive forms of collagen that are difficult for our bodies to use effectively. Studies show that supplementing with these inactive sources can have some beneficial effects on human health, but these sources do not provide the levels of effective and rapid healing that you might expect.

In the clinical market, there is also a substantial lack of treatments for rapid and effective healing of orthopedic injuries—like tears of the ACL, Achilles tendon, rotator cuff, meniscus, or spinal injuries—as well as diabetic ulcers, chronic wounds, and surgical incisions. Millions of people suffer from these types of injuries each year, losing strength and productivity as they heal, as well as risking reinjury.

Dr. Jeffrey Ruberti and The Extracellular Matrix Engineering Research Laboratory (EMERL) aim to change that. Through their research at Northeastern, they have found a better way to produce active human collagen and promote rapid healing for injuries.

Clinical collagen production: A new way forward

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Photo by Joshua Brown

As the result of over 15 years of research, Dr. Jeffrey Ruberti and The EMERL have found a way to produce a stable supply of active human collagen and open new possibilities for advanced healing. The research uses CRISPR Cas 9 technology to transduce fibroblasts to produce large amounts of active human collagen.

“We are examining ways to accelerate the production of collagen for use in therapeutics for tissue repair,” said Dr. Ruberti. “CRISPR was a natural place to look for ways to accomplish this goal.”

The methods created by the EMERL would enable collagen to be produced more cheaply and effectively than current bovine collagen production methods.

Commercialization through The Spark Fund

Dr. Ruberti’s lab was awarded a 2022 Spark Fund grant, which will be used to advance the commercial prospects of their collagen research.

“Commercialization is quite difficult to accomplish. Your ability to tell a concise, well-reasoned, and well-supported story is paramount to success. The Spark Fund has been really beneficial for this because it helps labs like mine transition to a commercial effort while staying within the university. Our efforts have already progressed much further than they would have if we had to move outside the university.”

Dr. Ruberti and the EMERL have also partnered with the CRI—the managing department for the fund—on furthering all their commercial efforts.

“Overall, the CRI has taken great pains to protect my IP portfolio. They have been instrumental in introducing me to opportunities for my work and have been quite supportive of my efforts to bring this very important technology to the public and out of my lab.”

Learn more about Dr. Ruberti and the five other 2022 Spark Award grantees here.


Written by Elizabeth Creason

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