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Innovations for medical technology - the MicroMountains iNNOVATION fORUM

The second iNNOVATION fORUM for medical technology, held in Tuttlingen on June 23rd, once again enabled companies to find out about promising product ideas. The MicroMountains Network technology initiative could not have chosen a more suitable location than the city of Tuttlingen, well-known as a “world centre of medical technology”. As the biologisation of medical technology is becoming more and more common, researchers at the NMI in Reutlingen and the Fraunhofer IGB in Stuttgart used the opportunity to present their promising innovations in the field of biotechnology and regenerative medicine.

Dr. Stefan Fennrich of the NMI in Reutlingen speaking at the iNNOVATION fORUM Medizintechnik organised by the MicroMountains Network. © Toni Ruch, IHK Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg

The MicroMountains Network brought together scientists and industry representatives with the overall objective of reducing the distance on the road between research and industry. 25 speakers from national and international research institutions presented their projects and prototypes to an audience of around 100 delegates. Among the projects and prototypes presented were innovations in the field of minimally invasive surgery, new biomaterials and microsystems, therapeutic and organ support systems. The forum participants took part in discussions about potential applications and perspectives for the commercial exploitation of such projects and prototypes.

The core concerns of the MicroMountains Network, which was established in 2005 on the initiative of the Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are technical innovations, experts and high-tech company foundations. 42 companies and institutions work within the network on the development of technological infrastructure, support for young company founders and the promotion of technologies to arouse the interest of youngsters.

MicroMountains Applications AG, based in the city of Villingen-Schwenningen, is the centre for the application of microtechnology and microsystems technology in Baden-Württemberg. It offers new opportunities in high-profile research and development for local small and medium-sized companies that have little or no in-house research capacities. The idea is to provide the companies with urgently needed innovations and help them to improve their own products or develop new products. The MicroMountains application centre acts as an active link between research and development centres and companies interested in quickly turning innovations into marketable commodities.

Besides the MicroMountains application centre, MicroMountains Venture AG invests in young Baden-Württemberg-based technology companies with growth potential. The company mainly provides venture capital for the development and market introduction of innovative products. A central goal of MicroMountains Venture is the start-up financing of technology-oriented foundations through a regional fund.

Strong partners: biotechnology and medical technology

Since the biologisation of medical technology is becoming more and more important, innovations in the fields of biotechnology and regenerative medicine were a key topic at this year's MicroMountains iNNOVATION fORUM. The "Biomaterials in Medical Technology" session dealt with methods related to this topic as well as presenting new surgical and diagnostic approaches.

Tracheal tissue produced with a method developed by Fraunhofer IGB. © Fraunhofer IGB

Esther Novosel from the Fraunhofer Institute of Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) in Stuttgart talked about an innovative application in the field of tissue engineering. The application related to a biotechnologically produced tracheal tissue that can be used for the reconstruction of respiratory tract defects. The transplant is based on a tissue engineering method developed by Prof. Mertsching at the Fraunhofer IGB, and which is already being successfully used for the treatment of patients in the Department of Thoracic Surgery at the Schillerhöhe Clinic in Gerlingen.

The green colour shows that the cells that were treated with siRNA nanoparticles of the NMI (bottom row, left picture) are as vital as untreated control cells (top left). In addition, the siRNA nanoparticles are incorporated well by the cells (red colour, bottom right). © Ursula Mittnacht, NMI

The objective of Dr. Hanna Hartmann, scientist at the NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen in Reutlingen, is to equip medical implants with biological functions along with their mechanical properties. This is achieved by coupling bioactive molecules - in this case siRNA - to the implants. siRNAs (small interfering RNA) are short-chain biological molecules that highly specifically block the production of cellular proteins. Coupling siRNA to biomaterial in the form of nanoparticles will in future enable implants to more effectively support complex biological processes such as the regeneration of tissue. The method not only enables the scientists to couple siRNA to the surface of an implant, but also to achieve the release of siRNA at a desired point in time. In addition, siRNA nanoparticles are relatively stable and more easily incorporated into the cells.

Apparatus for the simulation of blood circulation- © Stefan Fennrich, NMI

Dr. Stefan Fennrich of the NMI presented another of the NMI's technological capabilities. He gave a talk on a dynamic system that uses human blood to simulate blood circulation, which can be used for the in vivo testing of medical products for their tolerability in a method that resembles the real situation as closely as possible. The system developed and designed in Reutlingen, enables the determination of the physiological parameters in all testing categories required for the commercialisation of medical products. In addition, the NMI researchers use an in vitro pyrogen test (IPT) that predicts human response to pyrogens (substances that send signals to the body to increase its temperature in order to induce fever) to indicate contaminations that might otherwise enter the human body with a drug. The IPT implemented at the NMI, based on a method that measures fever, has already been successfully validated on the international level. The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines has now approved the test, which represents major progress in the testing of the safety of drugs and medical products.

In the opening talk at the MicroMountains iNNOVATION fORUM, Prof. Dr. Jörg Vienken from the medical device manufacturer Fresenius Medical Care pointed out that health issues are set to become more and more important in the future, at the same time as highlighting that especially in the medical technology sector the approval and reimbursement of products are  extremely critical issues. Dr. Nicolas Lembert from NMI Technologietransfer GmbH highlighted the particular regulatory challenges and conditions for biomedical products. He also referred to the new EU directive relating to the placing of advanced therapy medicinal products on the market, explaining that the classification of biomedical products, especially tissue engineering products, still lack clear legal regulations and thus leave some scope in the respective approval strategies.

The initiators of the MicroMountains Network have been in close contact with BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH for some years now. In close cooperation with the administrative district of Tuttlingen, the two partners are working towards the more efficient promotion of innovations in the medical technology sector. In 2009, the Medical Technology Cluster of the Tuttlingen area will receive a cluster management company, whose establishment is funded by the Baden-Württemberg government and the EU. This company will specifically contribute to successful coordination and communication within the region, working towards the medical technology location's strong international visibility and networking.

Further information:
MicroMountains Network e.V.
Romäusring 4
78050 Villingen-Schwenningen
Egon Warfia
Tel.: +49 (0)7721 922-194
Fax: +49 (0)7721 922-193
E-mail: warfia(at)villingen-schwenningen.ihk.de

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/innovations-for-medical-technology-the-micromountains-innovation-forum