Regenerative Medicine Through Interdisciplinary Translational Research
We currently have two facilities, a basic and applied research facility in Rhodes Hall/Clemson Bioengineering Department and a second, focused on translational clinical research at the Greenville Hospital System, Greenville, SC:
- The Biocompatibility and Tissue Regeneration Laboratory (BTRL) formed in 2006, is situated in the Rhodes Research Center, Department of Bioengineering at Clemson University. The facility occupies about 900 square feet split into two labs: Rhodes 507 - focused on basic research, cell biology and biochemistry and Rhodes 514 focused on bioreactor development and biomechanical testing.
- The Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine situated in the Greenville Hospital System Patewood Campus, CU Translational Facility (Greenville, SC) and was formed in 2009. The lab occupies about 1200 square feet and constitutes a stepping stone towards translational medicine. The lab focuses on transfer of regenerative technologies from the Clemson R&D labs (BTRL) one step closer to bedside applications. The lab is equipped for sterile work with human stem cells and scaffolds and includes specific bioreactors, microscopes, and devices.
BTRLabs are equipped with all necessary equipment for proposed research. For cell cultures and tissue engineering studies, BTRL is equipped with CO2 incubators, sterile bio-hoods, and disposable plasticware. For Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA) determinations of soluble proteins we employ a high-tech 96-well plate ELISA reader and washer that greatly facilitates reproducible assays. Protein analysis is performed by acrylamide electrophoresis, western blotting and ELISAs, while gene expression is done by PCR. BTRL has access to fully equipped histology labs and the electron microscopy facility. Other laboratory equipment include refrigerated centrifuges reaching speeds of up to 12000 rpm that handle small volumes (1-2 ml), refrigerated centrifuges that reach 5000 rpm for larger volumes (up to 50 ml tubes). We also use pipettors, manual (Eppendorf) and digital (BrandTech), including mutichannel pipettors. For temperature-controlled reactions, we use digital water-baths, dry digital hybridization ovens, etc. Other equipment include balances, digital pH meters, hot plates and magnetic stirrers, homogenizers, inverted microscopes with digital cameras for cell cultures and conventional histology.
Designed and built in our labs: the Clemson Heart Valve Bioreactor, the Clemson Heart Valve Mini-Tester, the Clemson Vascular Bioreactor, and setup for compliance testing and burst pressure analysis of vascular grafts.
The fate of clinically implanted devices and biomaterials mainly depends on their biocompatibility. This area of research includes study of host reactions, such as bio-recognition and immunological tolerance, and the role of implant properties such as design, motion, mechanics, porosity, material surface properties, surgical techniques and toxicity. In collaboration with scientists in Canada, we are studying the basic structural and functional properties of human heart valves in relation to their pathology, regeneration potential and replacement. Ongoing studies focus on reducing biomaterial degeneration by enhanced tissue stabilization with phenolic tannins.
Minimally Invasive Therapies
For clinical situations of moderate severity, we strive to develop targeted local therapies. Ongoing work in collaboration with faculty at Clemson University aims at limitation of vascular degeneration and progression of aortic aneurysms by local delivery of phenolic tannins, agents that target extracellular matrix stabilization. Additional projects include treatment of intervertebral disc degeneration, targeted drug therapy for reduction of cardiac fibrosis by delivery of selected anti-fibrotic agents and minimally invasive treatment of valve and myocardial diseases.
Regenerative Medicine for Pediatric & Adult Patients
The pinnacle of biomedical technologies for patient treatments are materials which can be implanted into a patient and remodeled into the patient’s own native tissue over time. This is the epitome of tissue engineering, a discipline of regenerative medicine and the overall goal behind the research conducted in the BTRL. In clinical situations where severe tissue degeneration occurs and major surgery is unavoidable, we endeavor to develop tissue-engineering approaches that will allow complete tissue regeneration and growth.
These properties are especially important for use in children, who tend to rapidly outgrow their implants. Applications include myocardial patches to treat defects and to replace fibrosed myocardial segments, replacement heart valves and vascular grafts as well as novel scaffolds for regeneration of intervertebral discs. In collaboration with scientists at Clemson, the National Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan and the Cardiovascular Surgery Center in Cape Town South Africa, we are developing tissue-engineering scaffolds from decellularized blood vessels and are studying their usefulness for cardiovascular applications in animal models. Scaffolds are treated with agents to control their in vivo biodegradability and enriched with specific growth factors to promote host cell infiltration, remodeling and revascularization. This exciting field is still under development but offers a unique potential to create functional and viable tissue constructs for patients requiring organ replacement.
Translational Research; “from Bench to Bedside”
"Research undertaken in response to a defined clinical need which is directly applied towards the detection, prevention, and/or treatment of pathological, degenerative, or traumatic conditions, resulting in improved clinical outcomes for target patient populations."
The future of medicine depends on our ability to translate research done in the lab to an actual clinical scenario. The best example is that of pharmaceuticals that we use every day: a drug is first envisioned, then developed in the lab, tested on animals, and finally tested in small groups of patients before being approved for patient’s use. For tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, scaffolds and implants have to undergo the same process. While ample research has been done in the lab and on animals, very few examples are known where regenerative medicine has been implemented clinically.
BTRL proposes to be at the forefront of translational regenerative medicine by interfacing the research facilities at Clemson University with the clinical labs at Patewood Greenville Hospital System. The main focus will be on using autologous adult stem cells for tissue regeneration. This unique interface will facilitate “bridging the gap” between bench and bedside, working together with clinicians to understand the clinical needs, develop proposals for grant applications and clinical studies. Currently we have several notable collaborations within the Greenville Hospital System but are continuously seeking clinical collaborators interested in this endeavor.