The Expanding Role of Electrospinning in Material Science and Biomedicine according to Vivolta’s CTIO: Ramon Solberg

April 24, 2024

He is considered one of the pioneers of electrospinning, with sixteen years of experience in spinning polymers into nano fibers. He is also a prominent member of Smart BioMaterials Consortium and is closely involved in the development of a method for producing stents that treat ischemia without causing restenosis, in collaboration with two other members of SBMC, Corbion and STENTiT.  It’s time for an interview with the grandfather of electrospinning: Ramon Solberg.

“I’m a techie at heart. No doubt about that”

Ramon, let’s start with the million-dollar question: Why do we need electrospinning?

“Electrospinning is used for making micro or nanofibers, essentially creating nano or micro “spaghetti” structures by using electrostatic electricity to draw a dissolved polymer into a fiber, all without any contact. Its most recognizable application is in filters, like the pollen filters in your car, which are also produced by electrospinning. Shifting to our business focus in the medical device arena, we’re making implants by creating so called scaffolds out of these micro or nanofibers. We can directly collect the fibers into flat structures, like patches, or into 3D structures like tubes. The impact is that these fibers are smaller than the cells themselves and essentially mimic the extracellular matrix of the human body, promoting tissue healing through regeneration rather than causing an adverse response, which is common with conventional implants.”

What are the current competing materials and production methods?

“You can consider competition by looking at conventional methods for making medical devices.  For instance, injection molding, which is used to create solid implants that cells can’t penetrate. Instead, cells can only envelop these structures. Other methods are e.g. medical textiles and even 3D printing. Also, here you see need for improvement. For example, look at pelvic organ prolapse meshes; even 15 years after implantation, the body may start resisting them, and they become problematic because you can’t remove them anymore.  All these more conventional methods create structures on a scale larger than a cell, unlike what we are trying to do with electrospinning. Creating a cooperative- instead of a toleration response of the human body. And next to these implant benefits, we can create these products much faster and in a fully automated way, eliminating a lot of labor costs.”

So, apart from implants, what other applications does electrospinning have in the medical field?

“We have identified about 12 different application areas. A lot of these areas indeed cover creating implants like cardiovascular or sports medicine applications. But we also consider wound healing products and supporting/diagnostic devices, like small catheters. Other example is the cooperation with Avelo where we are developing a breath collection device that enables fast diagnosis of lower respiratory tract infections.”

Do you need different materials for every application?

“It depends on the biodynamics required in the implant. For instance, an artificial graft for dialysis must be punctured many times, practically daily, which requires a certain resilience. We use different materials with specific properties tailored for different applications according to what our customers are looking for.”

You’ve been in the industry for some time, starting as a machine builder. The company was called IME Medical Electrospinning. Then it became Vivolta, focusing on development and manufacturing of medical materials. Why the shift?

“We initially supplied R&D systems globally for a broad range of applications, from fashion to electronics. But we learned that you need focus because you need to understand the language and the requirements of your customers deeply. So we narrowed our focus to medical applications, where our precision could really make a difference. Next reason was seizing an opportunity. We realized that no one was adequately addressing the need to translate this laboratory-scale production technology into reproducible, large-scale manufacturing for biomedical applications. This resulted in our Medispin equipment platform now enabling us to, next to developing new implants, also fully manufacture the parts for our customers, making us the CDMO we are today.

Are people currently walking around with Vivolta-produced products in their bodies?

“There are implants made with our R&D electrospinning machines out there, but not yet made by our Medispin platform. We are at clinical trial stage with our clients where we’re translating their product towards manufacturing and expect to have commercial production going by 2026”

Over the years you have had various roles in the company. Which suits you best?

“I’ve been jokingly referred to as the ‘chief everything officer’ due to my involvement in basically all aspects of the company going from startup to scaleup. While I’ve also done everything from accounting to business development, I’m a techie at heart, no doubt about that. So, for me, being the CTIO gives me the most fulfilling role to contribute to the success of the company”.

You are involved in one of the first projects of SBMC together with STENTiT and Corbion. How is that going?

“Within the SBMC program, we are developing the manufacturing side for STENTiT’s first-generation product. STENTiT is in charge of the product development while we focus on manufacturing this fully resolvable, non-metallic stent that treats ischemia without causing restenosis. It involves a three-party collaboration where we have the material supplier, the production technology, and the product owner. Our role is to help bringing the prototype into a manufacturable process, integrating all necessary specifications and standards and although it’s taking a bit longer than anticipated, we are on the verge of having a producible product together”

“This eventually also culminates in the Medispin tubular manufacturing system we are developing and realizing within the NXTGEN Hightech consortium, enabled by the growth fund. By also using this product as a demonstrator we are together proving our ability to scale the manufacturing of these kind of products from one unit to thousands per day.”

Connect with us