NIH awards almost $2M for tissue regeneration studies

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Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University in Atlanta are set to receive nearly $2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop new therapies for treating traumatic injuries and degenerative diseases.

The money will support a five-year project focusing on developing biomaterials capable of capturing certain molecules from embryonic stem cells and targeting them to wound sites to enhance tissue regeneration. The work may assist clinicians by allowing them to utilize unique molecules without concerns of tumor formation or immune system challenges.

“Pre-clinical and clinical evidence strongly suggests that the biomolecules produced by stem cells significantly impact tissue regeneration independent of differentiation into functionally competent cells,” Todd C. McDevitt, PhD, director of the Stem Cell Engineering Center at Georgia Tech, said in a statement. “We want to find out if the signaling molecules responsible for scarless wound healing and functional tissue restoration during early stages of embryological development can be used with adult wounds to produce successful tissue regeneration without scar formation.”

The NIH grant includes plans for engineering biomaterials that can capture morphogens, or molecules secreted by embryonic stem cells undergoing differentiation. The study will also evaluate the regenerative activity of molecule-filled biomaterials in animal models of dermal wound healing, hind limb ischemia and bone fractures.

“Biomaterials have largely been used in an attempt to direct stem cell differentiation or serve as passive cell transplantation vehicles for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering purposes,” said McDevitt. “The idea of specifically engineering biomaterial properties to capture and deliver complex assemblies of stem cell-derived morphogens without transplanting the cells themselves represents a novel strategy to translate the potency of stem cells into a viable regenerative medicine therapy.”

The NIH grant was one of 17 awarded this year through the Director’s Transformative Research Projects Program. Another grant was awarded to the Coulter Department professor Shuming Nie, associate professor May Wang and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratory director Sunil Singhal.