People who have to undergo surgery but fear the scalpel will have a less-frightening alternative, the enzymatic “blade.” Researchers at the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering at Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a device that replaces the surgeon’s knife with natural biological materials.In an article just published in ACS Nano of the American Chemical Society, the researchers present the application of this technology in a surgical procedure in the mouth. This application significantly reduces the pain associated with orthodontic surgery and significantly accelerates tissue restoration.The research was conducted by Prof. Avi Schroeder, a nanotechnology expert who is head of the targeted drugs laboratory and personalized medicine technologies at the faculty. The “blade” is based on the intelligent use of enzymes – biological molecules by which the body restores itself – as well as nanoparticles and technology for controlled release of drugs.Every year, about five million people in the US alone undergo orthodontic treatment; to speed up the treatment, which can take as long as two years, many of them undergo an invasive procedure in which the collagen fibers that connect the tooth to the bone tissue that holds it are cut for the laying of an orthodontic bridge.The technology developed at the Technion softens the collagen fibers by means of a controlled release system of collagenase, an enzyme that breaks down the collagen. In methods developed in Schroeder’s lab, the collagenase is packed into liposomes – nanoscale particles with a spherical shape – that as long as they are there, cause the collagenase particles to be inactive. But when the gel is applied to the target site, the enzyme gradually begins to leak out of the liposome and soften the collagen fibers.The main author of the article is Dr. Assaf Zinger, who conducted his research in the framework of his doctoral thesis under the guidance of Schroeder.Zinger emphasizes that the new approach can be applied in a variety of other surgical procedures. “For thousands of years, the surgeon’s scalpel has become more sophisticated, but the paradigm has not changed,” he said. “In our study we present a significant paradigmatic change – the replacement of a mechanical-physical process with a biological process.”The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which optimal collagenase concentration was determined for the procedure and subsequent tissue rehabilitation.In a preclinical study, the researchers compared the efficacy of the controlled-release system (combined with a bridge) to that of conventional orthodontic therapy. The conclusion is that the unique system shortens the time needed to straighten teeth by about two-thirds. The study was conducted in rats, using a special bridge built for the experiment.The innovative treatment using proteolytic nanoparticles led to displacement of the teeth three times faster than their speed of movement when treated only with a bridge treatment alone.The research included physicians from Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center; physicians and dentists from Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center; and the Moriah Veterinary Center.