Thirty years ago, long before there was a Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, biomedical research in Georgia experienced a big bang with establishment of the Emory/Georgia Tech Biomedical Technology Research Center and a seed grant program that nurtured faculty interest in collaboration.
The seed grant required researchers from the two different institutions to bring their respective strengths together on projects designed to improve human health.
“That seed grant program was absolutely essential and its influence on success of the Emory-Georgia Tech partnership can’t be underestimated,” said Bob Nerem, founding director of the Petit Institute, which launched in 1995. “It provided a foundation for everything else that has taken place since.”
That spirit of partnership has evolved in many ways, one of the most significant being the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine (REM) research center, which brought the University of Georgia (UGA) and its research strength into the mix with Emory and Georgia Tech, and the seed grant program remains as critical as ever, sparking multidisciplinary collaboration between the three institutions.
Recently, the REM research center awarded this year’s seed grants, totaling $700,000 for eight teams of interdisciplinary researchers working to harness the body’s own potential to heal or regenerate in response to injury or disease.
Here’s a rundown of the projects:
• Project Title: Using Pluripotent Stem Cells to Treat Male-Factor Infertility: Towards a Potential Regenerative Medicine Strategy.
• Principal Investigators: Charles Easley (UGA) and Anthony Chan (Emory)
• Synopsis: The researchers are developing a novel approach for differentiating human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells into advanced spermatogenic lineages. If successful, this proposal would show that functional male gametes can be derived from no greater starting material than a skin biopsy.
• Project Title: Identification of Molecular and Epigenetic Signatures of Cell Potency and Enhanced Embryonic Stem Cell Reprogramming for Regenerative Biomanufacturing.
• Principal Investigators: Rabindranath De La Fuente (UGA) and Yuhong Fan (Tech)
• Synopsis: The researchers propose to use their recently-developed episomal sensor of histone H4 acetylation to conduct a quantitative analysis of changes in genome-wide chromatin structure and the dynamics of epigenetic reprogramming in real-time. Their studies will provide a genome-wide map of the chromatin regulatory landscape and transcriptome profiles with predictive value to evaluate potency for neuronal differentiation.
• Project Title: Hydrogels for Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Treat Graft-vs-Host Disease.
• Principal Investigators: Andrés J. García (Tech), Muna Qayed (Emory)
• Synopsis: The objective of this project 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 Graft vs Host Disease.
• Project Title: Elucidating Natural Killer Cells as a Cell Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease.
• Principal Investigators: Jae-Kyung (Jamise) Lee (UGA) and Levi Wood (Tech)
• Synopsis: The research team’s goal is to obtain new data determining if Natural Killer cells have the capacity to protect neurons and modulate microglial activation in the context of a Alpha-synuclein.
• Project Title: Exploring Mechanosensitive Cues to Enhance Mitochondrial Structure and Function During Regeneration.
• Principal Investigators: Jarrod Call (UGA) and Khalid Salaita (Emory)
• Synopsis: The primary goal is to determine mechanical signals that influence mitochondrial structure and function. The central hypothesis is that mitochondria structure and function are sensitive to mechanical stimuli.
• Project Title: Pro-Regenerative Immunomodulatory Therapies to Repair Volumetric Muscle Injuries.
• Principal Investigators: Nick Willett (Emory) and Edward Botchwey (Tech)
• Synopsis: The researchers’ proposed research will investigate whether engineered immune modulatory nanofibers will enhance regenerative capacity in rodent models of volumetric muscle loss (VML).
• Project Title: Condyle Regenerative Medicine.
• Principal Investigators: Scott Hollister (Tech), Shelly Abramowicz and Steven Goudy (Emory)
• Synopsis: The researchers want to develop a patient specific, 3D printed biologic pedicled flap approach to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) reconstruction. Specifically, they’ll design and optimize a porous mandibular condyle scaffold, fabricate the condyle from polycaprolactone (PCL) using 3D printing laser sintering, adsorb bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP2) to the scaffold and implant the scaffold in the temporalis muscle. After attaining vascularization and bone growth in the construct at 1 month, the locally pedicled tissue engineered flap will be surgically positioned to function as a mandibular condyle.
• Project Title: Skeletal Muscle Stem Cells are Novel Regulators of Collateral Blood Vessel Formation.
• Principal Investigators: Laura Hansen and Robert Taylor (Emory), and Young Jang (Tech)
• Synopsis: This project will determine if satellite cells are crucial to collateral vessel formation in a murine peripheral arterial disease (PAD) model as well as investigate if the positive effects of exercise therapy are dependent on satellite cells. The potential ability of satellite cells to restore blood flow through vascular growth and repair muscles damaged from ischemic myopathy makes them a promising and novel therapy for patients with PAD and critical limb ischemia.