Ohio Third Frontier awards $2 million to develop polymer mesh for pain relief.

Doctors soon could have another way to manage pain in patients after surgery other than using potentially addictive opioids. 

A scientist at the University of Akron has developed a polymer mesh that can be coated with a non-opioid medication and implanted in the body near the surgical site. 

The mesh would allow doctors to better target pain medication and use less-powerful drugs, said Matthew Becker, founder of the Becker Laboratory for Functional Biomaterials at the university. 

Becker’s research got a significant boost last week from Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission in the form of a $2 million grant to further develop the polymer mesh. That investment is being matched with funding from the university and business partners 21MedTech and Merck & Co.

Getting the idea

Becker is the W. Gerald Austen Endowed Chair in Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering and has been working with degradable polymers for almost nine years.

The idea for the pain-relieving mesh developed from his lab’s work on hernia and skin repair and 3-D drug printing and from his personal experience.

Becker said his wife had minor laparoscopic surgery earlier this year with a reputable physician.

“When they sent us home, I went to pick up the prescription and they handed me a pile of pills, like 60, and she only took one,” Becker said.

He eventually got rid of the remaining opioid pills at a police department, but “I was thinking, if this is routine, this is a real problem,” he said.

Medical researchers have called for doctors to use fewer opioids because they can be a gateway to addictionand state regulators have placed restrictive guidelines on opioid prescriptions.

A study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one in 48 patients receiving an opioid prescription would become an excess long-term opioid user. And four in five new heroin users started out by misusing prescription opioids, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

How it would work

A surgeon would implant the mesh at the end of surgery and the patient’s body would gradually absorb it, Becker said.

“You only need pain management for about three days, and after that, you can take Tylenol,” he said

Many polymers become acidic when they break down, which can cause inflammation in the body and hamper the effectiveness of medication, but Becker’s mesh is made from polyester urea and isn’t acidic when it degrades.

He said the Third Frontier grant will speed up prototyping and fabrication of the mesh, and he anticipated filing for Food and Drug Administration approval next summer, a process that could take several months.

Becker is a co-founder of 21MedTech. Merck & Co. is a multi-billion dollar global pharmaceutical company.

Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission has made available $20 million to develop technology that could stem the opioid crisis and awarded the first half of money last week to seven recipients, including the University of Akron.

Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @shooverREP