Tufts University establishes $4 million dollar tissue engineering resource center

09/13/04

Biomedical, bioengineering experts to address growing demand for tissue repair, stem cell research

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. – With a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Tufts University has established a Tissue Engineering Resource Center on its Medford/Somerville campus, officials announced today.

The grant is funded through the NIH's National Institutes of Biomedical Instrumentation and Bioengineering.

Tissue engineering has grown immensely as a discipline in recent years due to advances in cell and molecular biology, biomaterials science and engineering and bioreactor design and function. Tissue engineering also fosters basic research, by providing physiologically relevant models of cells and tissues.

"We've created this Center to meet the demand caused by the widening gap between clinical needs and available replacement tissues and organs," said David Kaplan, chair of the biomedical engineering department at Tufts' School of Engineering and professor of chemical and biological engineering.

The Center has a core laboratory at Tufts' Science and Technology Center in Medford and includes a consortium of experts from Tufts' schools of engineering, arts and sciences, medicine, dental medicine and veterinary medicine.

It also includes colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Division of Health Sciences and Technology, led by MIT's Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, who also has an adjunct teaching position at Tufts' School of Engineering.

"We recognize the need to integrate cell biology, biomaterials and bioreactor systems as a strategic approach to advancing the field of tissue engineering and associated services to address current laboratory and clinical challenges," Kaplan explained.

The experts will focus their research on two areas: studying and designing biodegradable and biocompatible tissue engineering "scaffolds" to optimize stem cell responses toward new tissue formation, and designing and building novel bioreactors – the apparatus for "growing" the cells and tissues that will become the products for research or clinical utility.

One of the first projects will be a study of biomaterial structure and morphology and the impact of these factors on stem cell differentiation toward specific tissue types, such as bone, cartilage and myocardial tissues.

The Center laboratories will offer researchers from the U.S. and around the world full access to the latest techniques to solve complex challenges in the field. It will host a number of collaborations with other laboratories related to specific enhancements of the core projects, such as tissue engineering of human ligaments using transfected adult stem cells.

In 2003, Kaplan and a former post doctoral student discovered that spiders and silkworms are able to spin webs and cocoons made of incredibly strong fibers because of the way they control water content and thus silk protein solubility and structural organization in their glands. This finding – published in the journal Nature – could lead to the development of new processing methods resulting in new high-strength and high-performance materials used for biomedical applications.

In 2002, Kaplan and his colleagues from Tufts' schools of engineering and medicine developed a tissue engineering strategy to repair one of the world's most common knee injuries -- ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) -- by mechanically and biologically engineering new ones using silk scaffolding for stem cell growth.

"This Center will help stimulate new economic growth by filling an important niche for start-up companies looking for support as they move their technologies to the next level," said Jamshed Bharucha, Tufts provost and senior vice president. "Tufts is proud to be part of this growing field," he added.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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