Stage 2 E-Team Grantees

Recipient Institution: 
Vanderbilt University
Principal Investigator: 
Scott Guelcher
Grant Amount: 

An implantable, synthetic, biodegradable scaffold designed to help diabetic ulcer patients heal faster.

Poraderm photo

The team:
PoraDerm – Awarded $15,014

The team members:

  • Drew Harmata, graduate student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
  • Jon Page, graduate student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Principal investigator:
Dr. Scott Guelcher, Assistant Professor

Vanderbilt University

The innovation:
A synthetic, biodegradable foam structure designed to heal chronic foot ulcers caused by diabetes.

The problem:
The prevalence of diabetes continues to rise in the United Sates. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States (8.3 percent of the population) suffer from diabetes and its complications.

Diabetes reduces blood flow to certain areas of the body, especially the feet, making it harder for the body to heal wounds. Additionally, diabetes can cause nerve damage that prevents a patient from feeling pain in his/her feet, increasing the likelihood that an injury will go unnoticed and untreated until it becomes infected. These factors contribute to the development of diabetic foot ulcers – open wounds that, if not properly treated, can become infected and lead to amputation of the lower leg.

Diabetic foot ulcers are responsible for more hospitalizations than any other diabetes complication. More than two million Americans suffer from chronic ulcers, requiring treatment costs of approximately $8 billion per year.

The solution:
PoraDerm is a synthetic, biodegradable foam structure designed to be implanted into the ulcer, significantly aiding the healing process. The structure fills the ulcer, covering the wound and acting as a scaffold that supports the surrounding tissue. The scaffold is made out of rigid polyurethane foam that can by shaved down and customized to fit a particular wound. The patient’s cells attach to the scaffold, allowing them to make direct contact across the full surface of the ulcer to repair the skin tissue. As the ulcer heals, the scaffold dissolves.

Products currently used to treat diabetic foot ulcers are often tissue paper-thin and designed to treat a variety of wound types on the human body. PoraDerm improves upon that design. Its malleable foam is more resilient and customizable than other products, and is specifically designed to accommodate the thicker skin on the bottom of a patient’s foot.

The future:
The PoraDerm team is working to secure funding to support animal and clinical trials that will compare the device’s performance against that of existing products. Before PoraDerm can be used in clinical trials, the device must undergo a rigorous FDA approval process.

Ultimately, the team would like to see PoraDerm used widely in a clinical setting. With an initial potential target market of 3.5 million patients, this represents a $1.5 billion market opportunity. While they recognize that achieving widespread use of the product will be a long process, Drew and Jon view each step along the way as a small success and learning opportunity.

Tips for student innovators:
Jon Page encourages student innovators to “Seek out organizations like NCIIA that provide education and guidance on entrepreneurship, especially organizations affiliated with your university. The earlier you can seek out these programs the better.”