Jess Whited, a regenerative scientist at Harvard University and co-founder of Matice Biosciences, uses AI to heal scars. She sat down with Jessica Ab to talk about her business.
Jessica Abo: Jess, you are the co-founder of Matice Biosciences. Tell us about what you do.
Matice Biosciences is a regenerative medicine company founded to harness the power of superregenerators. These are species in nature that are great healers and have some important similarities to humans. We collect data from these species to identify pathways and peptides that can help people heal from scar-free injuries and reinvent wound and skin care.
What is your background and what inspired you to start your business?
For my professional life, I run an academic research lab at Harvard, where we’re dedicated to understanding how salamanders regenerate. And while I’d always known they do this, I wasn’t focused on the scar aspect of it until my son had a horrible bike accident. He was eight years old and suffered severe cuts in the center of his face, requiring plastic surgery. In talking to the surgeons, I learned there wasn’t really much I could do to change the outcome of his scars. So as a mom, I felt compelled to rethink the information we were generating in our limb generation studies and consider an accidental by-product of these studies that maybe we could reuse the data to develop human anti-scar treatments . It is also important to note that many of the regenerative abilities possessed by these superregenerators are also naturally present in humans, although they are only active in the womb and for a short period of time during childhood. If you are a parent, you may have noticed how quickly and often a baby heals from a wound without scarring. Part of our job is to figure out how to reactivate this ability through what we learn from the superregenerators.
Why did you end up on salamanders?
I started looking around for which animals are really great at replacing entire parts of their bodies. And to me, the axolotl salamander was the most compelling because it regenerates its limbs throughout its life. And these are very complex appendages and they are mechanically very similar to human limbs. I felt like this was the most extreme example of limb regeneration in nature, and I really wanted to go after that.
And what can you get cells to do to improve the scar result?
From the moment the wound occurs, we want to focus on shifting the outcome of the scar. There are three main differences between how a superregenerator heals a wound and how a human heals a wound. First, the super regenerators do it very quickly. They very quickly form a skin barrier over the wound. Then, instead of just staying in an inflamed state, they switch to an anti-inflammatory mode much faster than we do. Finally, humans tend to make these types of harmful cells called myofibroblasts and they’re essentially responsible for secreting the tissue that causes the appearance of a scar, but super regenerators are really good at warding them off and don’t make much myofibroblasts.
How do you use AI to solve these problems?
Our proprietary platform, RegenProAI, uses computational biology and artificial intelligence to sift through billions of data points from many superregenerators around the world to find the molecules or peptides that would have the best effect on human skin. We’ve developed a whole pipeline of computational analyzes where we feed in the raw data and then refine it based on our predictions about which peptides might have the best effects on human cells. We then synthesize them in vitro, in a completely vegan way, and obtain these molecules. We test them on human cells and then we use the results of these tests to provide feedback to the AI platform and make it a little bit smarter each time. Ultimately, we find these needles in a haystack, which we retest on humans, and the final compounds go into formulations.
What have you been able to prove so far?
One thing I’m super excited about is that we’ve discovered a significant number of peptides that inhibit the formation of the bad cell types, the myofibroblasts, that are largely responsible for scarring. We have some molecules that can reduce myofibroblast formation by almost 70% compared to controls.
Some of these same peptides also accelerate skin cell growth, known as proliferation, which means more cells grow faster, which in turn speeds up healing, and some even speed up the rate at which the cells migrate to, coating a wound site with more than 150%, meaning they can form a protective barrier much faster after an injury.
All this cell-based work has allowed us to select some commercial targets that have been tested in humans and have shown great clinical results. From intentionally caused wounds, we have shown that we can speed up recovery time by 76% and reduce inflammation by 142%
What do you do other than what’s there?
Matice is the first company to really use AI and superregenerators in this way to create products that actually have proven results for humans. There really isn’t anything else available like this right now.
We combine deep expertise in regenerative biology with massive data mining, bioinformatics and artificial intelligence to generate our own ingredients. The peptides we’ve discovered are all a combination of nature, often from multiple organisms, and machine learning. As such, they are all de-novo, meaning they do not exist in nature and are all unique to us and patentable. They are inspired by the salamander and possibly a zebrafish or spiny mouse, but they are optimized to affect elements encoded in the human genome.
Jess, how do you think this will have a positive effect on people, both in the short and long term?
In the near term, Matice Biosciences is developing peptides that will be used in formulations that people can purchase from a dermatologist or drugstore for wound care. In the long term, many of these peptides and others could be used in FDA-approved medical devices or drugs that could be used to treat organ fibrosis, which is mechanically similar to scars on human skin, or used for internal and external external postoperative wound healing. .
What’s next for you?
To date, Matice has screened billions of unique protein fragments and discovered and designed more than 200 new and patentable peptides. But what I’m really excited about is what the future of Matice holds as we make and test more of these peptides, which are inspired by nature but perfected by science.