Antony Sinskey of MIT and Tepha (Cambridge, MA) have engineered E. coli to develop a polyester that is being used to develop dissolving sutures that are stronger, more flexible and longer lasting. Existing sutures made from polylactic and polyglycolic acids often dissolve too early, causing sutures to open which can result in infection. These sutures also break down to form inflammatory compounds within the body, while the new polyester is bio-compatible.
The new plastics are also being used in stents as well as meshes for hernia repairs. Research is underway to develop a scaffold for heart valves that is seeded with heart cells from the patient. Early experiments in lambs suggest that these valves grow as the heart grows. The approach promises to avoid the repeated surgery required in children born with heart-valve abnormalities, who today need to have increasingly larger artificial heart valves implanted.