When people register their consent for organ and tissue donation, they offer hope to those awaiting surgery. While most of us are familiar with life-saving organ transplants, Thunder Bay’s Lake Superior Centre for Regenerative Medicine (RegenMed) is enhancing the lives of patients through the gift of tissue.
RegenMed, the only stand-alone tissue bank in Canada, is dedicated to providing the highest quality of donated human bone and soft tissue for transplant. Recently, it added to its selection of bones, tendons, and ligaments used for a variety of medical procedures, thanks to a FedNor investment of $494,968. The contribution assisted with the purchase of a cortical bone grinder, as well as the expansion and commercialization of new products and market development. As its names implies, the highly specialized equipment produces powder from the dense outer layer of bones. The end product is applied during dental and oral-maxillofacial surgical procedures to stimulate the formation of new bone in patients who, for example, may have been involved in a motor vehicle accident.
“Regenerating the body’s own tissue is ideal. The alternative is to live the rest of your life with something foreign in your body,” explained David Stezenko, RegenMed Executive Director.
The state-of-the-art processing centre for transplantable tissue is the first in Canada to supply the critical cortical bone powder. A key goal of RegenMed’s market development plan was achieving American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) accreditation, an onerous process that spanned two and a half years. However, the Thunder Bay facility met the strict standards established by the world’s leading authority for tissue banks the first time that the AATB accreditation board reviewed its inspection data, a remarkable feat according to Stezenko.
“We have the right people and an incredibly robust quality system which ensures the highest industry standards are maintained,” stated Stezenko. “Earning American Association of Tissue Banks accreditation ensures patient care and provides peace of mind for surgeons using our tissues.”
Before its cortical bone program, RegenMed was limited in the number of patients it could assist with the precious gift of life from a donor. Now, it can expand the number of tissues processed from each donor to enhance the lives of up to 75 people. The expansion of its product line has enabled RegenMed to add four staff members to its payroll, increasing its total complement to 15.
The Centre launched its bone powder on the market in late March 2019, and Stezenko says it expects to make waves in the Canadian medical community, which up until that point was importing expensive cortical bone tissue from American suppliers. The revenue it generates will help the centre establish more competitive and sustainable operations.
RegenMed is also launching a new advanced wound treatment that makes use of donated skin. This FedNor-supported initiative is using a patented automated process to produce a product ready for transplant to improve patient healing and recovery. In the case of patients with diabetes or chronic wounds, clinicians place the product over the affected area to regenerate the skin and lessen the risk of infection.
“There are a dozen companies in the world worldwide processing this skin tissue by hand,” shared Stezenko. “But we are the only one on the planet with an automated process that removes cells from the skin. Our new patented process will pave the way for significantly lower costs for Canadian clinicians and this will be a game changer for sure.”
In addition to front-line cost savings for the Ontario healthcare system, trained clinicians will be able to apply the skin product in nursing stations in remote Northern Ontario communities, eliminating the need for patients to travel to larger centres for treatment. In 2018, approximately 2300 people in Ontario lost a portion of their leg due to a diabetic ulcer that would not close. Once the technology is available to clinicians, Stezenko hopes a large number of patients will be able to avoid those kind of amputations.
The product will supply a growing underserviced market. It is of particular interest to Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario where the former Northwest Local Health Integration Network suggests that diabetes occurs at rates three to five times higher than the general population with corresponding increases in diabetes-related complications.
These projects are but two examples of the types of initiatives funded by FedNor that support of the federal Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario. Learn more about PGSNO.