Since the beginning, the Matrix Biology Institute (MBI) focused on the biological activity and therapeutic uses of hyaluronan. Hyaluronan is a unique polysaccharide molecule filling the space between the cells of the human and other vertebrate bodies. It is unique in the sense that it is present in all connective tissues of the body and is a pure polysaccharide. Its most important quality is that it is a very viscoelastic fluid that fills the space between the two fibrous proteins (collagen and elastin), forming the space (biomatrix) between the cells. Balazs has worked with this molecule since his medical school days in Budapest, Hungary, in the late 1930s. His work concentrated first on defining the physical structure of this molecule and its biological importance in the biomatrix, also known as the intercellular matrix or intercellular substance. In the 1960s, Balazs began working on the therapeutic uses of this molecule and was the first to purify it and develop it for therapeutic use in various pathological conditions in the eye, joint, and in or on the surface of the skin. His newly developed hyaluronan therapeutic products were accepted worldwide in the 1970s.
The current research at MBI, based on the biological function of this molecule and its broader applications in therapeutic use, focuses on two ongoing projects:
Hyaluronan in pure form (as it is present in the human body) and also in form of a gel is used today for the purpose of decreasing pain in various arthritic conditions of the joint and to protect the tissue surfaces inside the joint. In other words, the role of hyaluronan in the joint is to prevent pain and help to heal wounds caused by various traumatic events or by aging. MBI is working to develop a new hyaluronan treatment that will be more efficacious than those currently on the market when applied directly in painful and mechanically damaged joints of the human body. This project is in the pre-clinical trial phase. MBI is developing cooperative projects with hospitals where the first clinical trials will be initiated.
It is well known that hyaluronan is not only an important component of the connective tissues, but is also involved in the control of the development and spread of tumors in the human body. MBI has been working on this subject for the past decade. These studies have concentrated on experiments carried out in the Institute’s laboratories, where human tumor cells have been used to study how hyaluronan affects the multiplication, growth and spread of these cells under laboratory conditions (in vitro). Most human tumor cells used experimentally are those that are available for purchase from commercial laboratories. Unfortunately, these cells have been modified in such a way that they grow and multiply very quickly, which is evidence that their genetic expression has been changed. This means that they are not the same tumor cells that exist in the human body. Researchers working on the behaviors of tumor cells (multiplication and spreading in the body) nearly always use such genetically-modified cells and rarely study the effect of pure hyaluronan on the original tumor cells. In other words, the biological condition of the multiplication and spread of normal tumor cells in the presence of pure hyaluronan has not been studied. MBI has developed a plan with a public hospital and medical school to work together on this project. This means that the hospital will collect and separate fresh tumor cells collected from patients and send them to MBI. Most importantly, they will not only collect and separate cells from these tumors, but will also characterize the cells present in the tumors. Without exposing these fresh cells to various artificial environments, MBI will receive them and, within 24 hours, will study their behavior using our pure hyaluronan culture system.