Eight interdisciplinary teams receive boost for research designed to harness the body’s own potential to heal
The Regenerative Engineering and Medicine (REM) research center, a joint collaboration of Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia, has awarded seed grants totaling $560,000 to eight teams of interdisciplinary researchers who are working to harness the body’s own potential to heal or regenerate in the wake of injury or disease.
REM research center leadership sees the annual program as a bridge-building first step to something larger.
“We believe the seed grant program is crucial to jump-starting new research activities between our institutions, and the awardees this year represent excellent examples of this type of interdisciplinary research,” says Johnna Temenoff, Petit Institute researcher, professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, and co-director of the REM center representing Georgia Tech.
Previous seed grant awardees have leveraged the funding into significant support from other agencies, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the REM center’s three co-directors expect the same level of success from this year’s project teams.
“The goal of the seed grants is to create new research teams that can be successful in securing more substantive extramural funding,” notes Ned Waller, a Petit Institute researcher and the co-director from Emory, where he is professor of medicine and oncology. “These small grants are literally seeds sown into fertile scientific soil that will grow into robust research projects.”
The program targeted two research areas this year: optimizing cell-manufacturing and modifying the host environment to increase the biological effect of cell therapies.
“All of the submitted grants were highly significant and valuable,” says Steve Stice, co-director from the University of Georgia and also a Petit Institute researcher. “From advancing potential cell therapies for treating devastating eye diseases to a better understanding of how stem cells engraft in target issues, which could enhance the success of all stem cell therapies.”
Adds Waller, “We are excited by the proposals put forth by REM investigators and look forward to seeing the results from the new collaborations.”
Here’s a rundown of the eight projects:
• Project Title: Single-cell epigenomics: Towards understanding the mechanisms regulating cell potency and epigenetic stability for regenerative biomanufacturing
• Principle Investigators: Rabindranath De La Fuente (University of Georgia), Yuhong Fan (Georgia Institute of Technology, Petit Institute researcher).
• Synopsis: The researchers plan to develop novel epigenenic sensors and single-cell epigenomics tools that could be adapted for high throughput analysis of potency in cell therapy products with potential clinical applications. This collaboration is part of a long term funding strategy to provide essential preliminary data and design a subsequent application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF) or the American Heart Association (AHA) to develop noninvasive diagnostic tools to predict cell potency and to improve regenerative biomanufacturing.
• Project Title: Hydrogels for Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Treat Graft-vs-Host Disease
• Principal Investigators: Andrés J. García (Georgia Tech, Petit Institute researcher), Muna Qayed (Emory University), Raghavan Chinnadurai (Emory University).
• Synopsis: The researchers’ objective is to engineer synthetic hydrogels that encapsulate mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and promote their survival and expansion in alternative transplant sites resulting in enhanced immunomodulatory activities for the treatment of GvHD. They hypothesize that these delivery vehicles will prolong MSC persistence and survival compared to intravenous delivery and will result in reduced GvHD activity in pre-clinical transplant models.
• Project Title: Transplantation of bioenergetics-enriched stem cells to boost muscle regeneration in ischemic myopathy
• Principal Investigators: Young C. Jang (Georgia Tech, Petit Institute researcher, Coulter Department), Luke Brewster (Emory University), Franklin West (University of Georgia).
• Synopsis: The overarching goal is to validate the importance of mitochondrial bioenergetics in peripheral arterial disease (PAD, a progressive degenerative disease) and to test whether transplantation of donor stem cells that are enriched for mitochondrial activity can rejuvenate muscle regeneration. The outcome of this work will have a broad and significant impact in the field of regenerative medicine.
• Project Title: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation for Traumatic Brain Injuries
• Principal Investigators: Lohitash Karumbaiah (University of Georgia), Maysam Ghovanloo (Georgia Tech).
• Synopsis: Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) lead to a range of complex neurophysiological and functional deficits, severe long-term disability, and poor prognosis. There are no effective treatments for TBI, but noninvasive transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) has shown promise. The researchers plan to test their hypothesis that tDCS in combination with low-frequency synaptic activation will enhance neuronal regeneration and improve synaptic strength of injured motor neurons in vitro, leading to functional recovery.
• Project Title: HDL-mimetic nanocarriers for miRNA-mediated direct cell reprogramming for vascular regeneration
• Principal Investigators: YongTae Kim (Georgia Tech, Petit Institute researcher), Young-sup Yoon (Emory University).
• Synopsis: Ischemic cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality, afflicting approximately 26% of Americans. The underlying problems are associated with loss or dysfunction of blood vessels and/or impaired new vessel formation (neovascularization). Neovascularization is critical for tissue repair and regeneration and the progress depends mainly upon the functionality of endothelial cells (ECs), which are not easily obtained. If successful, this will be the first study of direct reprogramming of adult human somatic cells into ECs via miRNAs. Outcomes from this research could suggest a novel platform for ischemic tissue repair and regeneration and a source of cells for disease investigation and drug discovery.
• Project Title: Microfluidic technologies to rapidly collect stem cells for treatment of damaged cornea
• Principal Investigators: Todd Sulchek (Georgia Tech, Petit Institute researcher), James Lauderdale (University of Georgia).
• Synopsis: The researchers plan to apply a new microfluidic cell sorting technology to rapidly enrich stem cells from a damaged cornea for therapeutic replacement and regeneration of the cornea. The technology will enrich stem cells without labels through biophysical markers. The advantage of utilizing biophysical markers is that that sorting can be extremely fast and with no expensive or cumbersome equipment.
• Project Title: Enhancing transplanted MSC engraftment by selective opening of the bone marrow niche for hypophosphatasia renewal
• Principal Investigators: Luke J. Mortensen (University of Georgia), Ed Botchwey (Georgia Tech, Petit Institute researcher).
• Synopsis: Systemically administered mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a promising therapeutic approach to prevent or ameliorate metabolic bone diseases, such as hypophosphatasia (HPP), which reduces bone mineralization and produces fragile bones. The goal of this study is to develop strategies to enhance carrying capacity for and engraftment of donor MSCs without damaging the bone marrow niche or compromising bone homeostasis.
• Project Title: Development of novel iPSC-RBCs engineered to tolerize recipients to alloantigens that complicate transfusion and other cell therapies
• Principal Investigators: John D. Roback (Emory University), James Dahlman (Georgia Tech, Petit Institute researcher), Sean Stowell (Emory University).
• Synopsis: Red blood cell (RBC) transfusion is a common therapeutic procedure, but its efficacy is diminished in recipients who have developed an immune response against the allogenic cells. By leveraging specialized models, the researchers have developed novel approaches to engineer RBC antigens and ultimately tolerize transfusion recipients to foreign RBC antigens, so these patients can continue to receive needed transfusion support.
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