With Not Impossible selected as part of TEDMED's The Hive 2014 in San Francisco, we took the opportunity to touch base with other innovators who inspire us. NotImpossibleNow's editor got in the booth with Epibone co-founders Nina Tandon (CEO) and Sarindr Ick Bhumiratana (Chief Scientific Officer). Epibone is enabling people to grow their own bone from stem cells so that a superior bone graft can be manufactured that will provide exact defect repair, a simplified surgical procedure, improved bone formation and regeneration, and shorter recovery times to the over 900,000 patients who undergo bone-related surgeries each year.


Who was interested in this subject first?

Sarindr: I did my PhD at Columbia University on bone and cartilage tissue engineering. So it's something I've been working on for about seven years. After my PhD I did reports on the technology development for this and now I'm partnering with Nina as my CEO, we started this company.

Nina: We did our PhD in the same lab. My PhD work was in cardiac tissue engineering, which is much further away from being able to help patients. So when [Sarindr's] work started progressing to a point where it was looking more and more like it was time to translate out of the lab, that’s when I went to get my MBA and then we joined forces.

We kinda grew up together in the same lab, the next office over, the same PhD adviser, so its nice because we've known each other for a long time, all of us. Ten years or so.

Sarindr:  We still have to do a few more studies to show that this technology works and is safe before we get into human trials. We've been talking to the FDA and they've told us what they want to see, what we should do and we are planning everything.

Nina: Yeah, we've done experiments with small animals and now pigs and in the next couple of years we're hoping to do what they call "compassionate implantation" in people, all in anticipation of filing for permission for a bonafide clinical trial with the FDA.

How do you find those people to be the first to try Epibone?

Nina: They find us. You would be surprised. People will send us their MRIs and email us. But we'll be very selective about who those two to three people are because we want to make sure that we help them and at the same time that we don’t expose them to certain risks. We have to be really careful. But, yeah, we're on the lookout. Our surgeon is the chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Columbia [University], so he's got patients of his that he's known about for years and years and years. There's definitely a lot of demand.




Who would be the best first patient?

Nina: Someone who's young but not so young that we'll run the risk of whether the bones will or won't grow properly. So, young but not an infant, and without, you know, certain risks of other things that might pop up, like cancer, for instance. Some people need resections due to cancer but that might not be the ideal first candidate for us to use the stem cell treatment right now. So we have to balance all of those factors.

If you're sitting down on an airplane next to someone who asks what you do, how do you describe it?

Nina: Oh, it's super easy. We grow bones from stem cells. Obviously, the process is nuanced and 15 years of research went into it but, yeah, it's easy to say, "We're growing bones."

What do you think about the 3D-printed bone that other medical operations are using as scaffolding. For hips and shoulders and the like--

Nina: Sister technologies, right? All of these industries moving together is great. With all of the 3D bio-fabrication, we can piggy back on that, we didn't have to invent 3D micro-printing, but we can use that.

What was it like the first time you saw the bone regeneration work?

Sarindr: It's great, it's just "Wow," when you see the regeneration. We saw something beyond what we expected and we just thought, "Wow, this is something, this is something we've been passionate about, and we are very, very happy."

If you were to work on anything outside of this, a different topic on which you'd like to have an impact--

Nina: I love propagating the principles of bio-fabrication and tissue engineering beyond science. Bringing [this technology] into the art and design space. I've been collaborating, teaching, at a bio-hacking space in Brooklyn , called Genspace. And now actually I've brought it into the lab at Cooper Union, which is an engineering, art and architecture school, to teach these principles beyond engineering. 

I really think we are on the wave of the next industrial revolution where we're going to start collaborating with biology as a technological partner and I think that’s really exciting. Like, way beyond how exciting this is, which is, like, ridiculously exciting. It's the idea that we can really transform the way we think about manufacturing and design towards the more robust, more scaleable, more efficient and more natural.

Whats the ultimate representation of that tech?

Nina: Well, its happening all over the place right now. You've got people who are collaborating with bacteria to grow everything from coffins to leather jackets. We've got people applying the same techniques in tissue engineering towards growing meats. You've got architects that are growing living lattices and people even making video games using paramecia. I see all of this as part of the same story of building technologies that interact with natural technologies so that we can, you know, reduce problems of scarcity and reduce inefficiencies of traditional manufacturing.



Sarindr: [Epibone] is my baby project. I've been working on this for seven years. I think its not impossible, that’s why I'm in here, doing it and still doing bone tissue engineering. We have another step, too, I want to do cartilage tissue engineering for joint resurfacing using stem cell technology, because I think it is possible.