Doctors routinely use plates, rods and screws to bolt a nasty bone fracture back together. But all of that hardware won't help heal the bone and muscle tissue surrounding the injury, said Thomas G. Roueche, president and chief executive of BioSurface Engineering Technologies Inc. of College Park.

Roueche's early-stage company, known as BioSET, focuses on developing therapeutic peptides -- molecular messengers that direct cells to start or stop growing or to change into something different -- to help the human body heal.

BioSET's research, which has not yet reached human trials, is based on adding peptides as an ultra-thin coating to medical implants. The peptides would be released over days or weeks directly into the damaged bone and muscle tissue. Peptides also have shown promise in preventing cerebral aneurysms from rupturing, Roueche said. In a minimally invasive procedure, tiny coils and wires loaded with peptides designed to help the blood vessel seal would be threaded through the femoral artery and to the brain.

Roueche said these converged medical-biologic devices are the future of patient treatment.

Peptides are typically grown in laboratories in animal cells or special bacteria, but Roueche said the process is laborious and inefficient. He said BioSET has devised an improved method of growing peptides through chemical synthesis in a lab, building them one amino acid at a time. "We're able to design from scratch, the way we want it to look, without any extras," Roueche said.

He said this ability will set his company apart from competitors. For example, Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific Corp. both manufacture drug-coated stents. The tiny metal scaffolds are used to prop open arteries and prevent them from reclogging. Roueche said the drugs used to coat such stents are well-known, globally used cancer therapeutics. The question, he said, is: "How do we optimize this drug for this specific application? We're able to tailor or design our peptide to optimally act in a specific application versus 'one drug fits all.' "

Roueche said another big question in the medical biologic device field is about dosing. He said BioSET has devised a "linking technology" that controls this process through a chemically modified molecule that mimics the body's natural method of delivering growth factors to the target cell.

Roueche said converged medical-biologic devices will improve the healing process, resulting in shorter hospital stays, fewer side effects and fewer repeat surgeries. "The [potential] savings to the health care system are enormous," he said. But the reality is still some time away. BioSET has completed some animal studies. Roueche said the company hopes to move to human trials in the next two to five years.

BioSurface Engineering Technologies senior scientist Kazu Takahashi evaluates a peptide's potential in the company's College Park laboratory. Potential savings to the health care system are "enormous," says CEO Thomas G. Roueche. At right is chief scientific officer Paul O. Zamora.