Greek researcher to lead in the new NIH-Funded Center for Engineering Complex Tissues
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Greek researcher to lead in the new NIH-Funded Center for Engineering Complex Tissues

Bioengineers at Rice University, the University of Maryland and Wake Forest University have received a $6.25 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to establish the Center for Engineering Complex Tissues (CECT). The center, which will start April 15, will help move tissue engineering from the lab to the clinic by both developing new technologies and serving as a collaborative hub for the fast-growing community of surgeons, biomaterials experts and engineers focused on regenerative medicine. Antonios Mikos will serve as the center’s associate director.

Antonios Mikos, director of the Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering and director of the J.W. Cox Laboratory for Biomedical Engineering, serves as Rice’s principal investigator for the five-year grant. David Scott, the Noah Harding Professor of Statistics, serves as Rice’s co-investigator in the CECT.

Tissue engineering, also known as regenerative medicine, focuses on capitalizing on the body’s natural recuperative powers by combining cells, biologically active molecules and biodegradable templates for cells to grow in – known as scaffolds – into functional tissues. Tissue engineering aims to create functional constructs that restore, maintain or improve damaged tissues or organs.

The CECT will strive to restore quality of life to millions of people burdened by the pain and limited mobility associated with orthopedic defects by transforming current three-dimensional printing and tissue engineering technologies into improved platforms for everyday uses in regenerative medicine and biomedical device development.

“The CECT establishes Rice as a premier institution in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine,” said Mikos, who is also the Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “We have made tremendous progress alongside our colleagues at the Texas Medical Center. The CECT is a wonderful recognition of all of our collaborative efforts and presents an exciting beginning as we continue to work as a community on new technologies to improve health care.”

The center will produce novel tissue-engineered constructs with innovative properties and transplantation capabilities. Experts at the three lead institutions will each focus on developing a core technology. Maryland will spearhead efforts with 3-D printed bioreactors for cell cultures. Wake Forest will focus on bioprinting patterning for cell-laden constructs, and Rice will concentrate on bioprinting for complex scaffold fabrication.

“The CECT is unique as it focuses both on the engineering of complex tissues and on the growing field of bioprinting,” Mikos said. “This grant is a great opportunity and responsibility to further develop the field and move it to the clinic.”

In addition to the three technology research and development projects, center experts will work with experts across the country on six additional collaborative projects and six service projects.

“CECT will become a national hub for regenerative medicine through which leading experts of all areas of bioengineering, tissue engineering and additive manufacturing can work collaboratively to advance human health,” said center co-principal investigator John Fisher, the Fischell Family Distinguished Professor and chair of the Fischell Department of Bioengineering at the University of Maryland. “Anyone in the world will have the opportunity to reach out to us to work in our labs. In this way, CECT will foster a two-way transfer of science to spur innovations that can shape the way bone, tissue and organ defects are treated or repaired.”

Mikos said collaborative projects will create a synergistic environment for testing technologies and providing feedback to solve specific biomedical problems. The back-and-forth flow of information will help drive technology development and point the way to new strategies at CECT. Collaborative projects will be conducted with experts at Harvard University, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Toronto.

Service projects will allow CECT technologies to be widely used and benefit far more projects. Service projects will be conducted with teams at Maryland, Columbia University, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Stanford University, Texas A&M University and Synthasome Inc.

“The great education opportunity the center allows is a tremendous draw for people to come here and learn about the techniques Rice is working on,” Mikos said. “By helping the community develop this expertise, we will continue to build the Advances in Tissue Engineering continuing-education course Rice has been committed to for more than 25 years.”

Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and chair of the Department of Urology at Wake Forest Bapsist Medical Center, and James Yoo, professor, associate director and chief scientific officer at the Wake Forest Insitute for Regenerative Medicine, will serve as co-principal investigators for Wake Forest’s technology research and development.