Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH
As a kid, I always enjoyed learning math, and reading about new technologies; so it’s no surprise that engineering has always been appealing to me. Growing up in Thailand, my father often took me to the countryside, and into the rain forests to observe and learn all about the diverse biology, and how organisms function together in nature. Combining my love of engineering and interest in biology lead me down the biomedical engineering path, which gave me the best of both worlds. In learning about stems cells and their incredible healing potential, I eventually pursued my PhD in the field of stem cell tissue engineering with Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic at Columbia University, where EpiBone’s technology was developed.
While it certainly isn’t always easy to achieve, biomimicry means replicating what happens in nature. As it applies to our work at EpiBone, we are developing techniques to grow tissue in bioreactors by attempting to mimic the tissue development and conditions that are seen in the human body. This biomimicry method allows us to grow bone and cartilage that exhibit the properties and appearance that closely matched native tissues in the laboratory.
Multipotent adult stem cells can be found all over the body. That said, the process is less about locating them, and more about extracting them from the tissue with high quality. At EpiBone, we extract mesenchymal stem cells, a type of adult stem cell, from a small amount of collected fat or bone marrow tissue. The process to collect these tissues is considered minimally invasive, especially when compared to having to harvest an autograft from your own body. There are also other avenues of stem cell collection, which include banked stem cells that could be used universally for a large patient population.
Well, we are still in the process of making EpiBone a reality! We’ve been working on our products for the past five years, and there is still more left to do before we can start offering patients safer, better, and more effective orthopedic solutions. As of May this year, we transitioned from pre-clinical to a clinical stage company, and are excited for this new chapter.
I truly believe that stem cells have tremendous potential, we’ve really only scratched the surface of what they are capable of. At present, we have to coax the cells into doing what we want them to do, but just imagine the potential if they could be programmed to grow whatever it is we might need. This work in regenerative medicine will be many years in the making, but will undoubtedly have a huge impact in the way heal our bodies and return to optimal health.
As I’ve settled into my role at EpiBone, I have learned that to develop a product like ours, which is technically complex and requires a multidisciplinary approach; team work is pivotal to our success as a company. As we grow, my main responsibility is to communicate a unified vision, which underlines the importance of each individual’s role in the development of our product, and has the space and agency to freely share their expertise, ideas, or concerns. A leader’s most important role is to create opportunity, accountability, and independence for the people on my team while, most importantly, still having fun!
NYC truly has a wealth of talent when it comes to health care and the life sciences. Unfortunately, the infrastructure has not always existed to retain and grow that talent. It has only been in the past 5-10 years that serious efforts have been made to address the brain-drain, and encourage the growth and development of homegrown companies. We have been the beneficiaries of these programs, which has allowed us to be located in one of the best cities in the world.
Nowadays, there is so much data in everything around us and it is a challenge to analyze it and use it effectively. The problem with us being awash with data of all kinds is that a single person has a limited capacity to process all this information to reach meaningful conclusions. Creating health tech that can sift through all of these data will help make healthcare or development of biotechnology more cost effective, efficient, and meaningful to patients.
Health tech truly has the ability to increase the access and availability of health care services to marginalized communities, while also delivering those services at a more affordable price. I do hope that health tech and public health intersect to create impactful solutions to the unique issues that prevent or deter some communities from seeking necessary care. Additionally, those partnerships should also help to inform and empower those communities to take control of their own health.
Be conscious of what you don’t know.