NIH funds regenerative medicine research

Regenerative medicine is an innovative and promising method for disease treatment that combines many different fields of study to facilitate our body’s natural ability to heal. The importance of regenerative medicine has prompted many institutions to give grants to scientists and researchers to further the knowledge and applications of this breakthrough treatment. One such organization is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have received monetary awards to continue their work on regenerative medicine. The NIH chooses its recipients based on research that will explore potentially groundbreaking and innovative advances for medicine.

Surgeries today are beset by tissue rejection, infection, and other complications. With regenerative medicine, the cells of an individual can be used as a means of treatment, effectively eliminating rejection; some researchers even foresee tissue and organ growth without having to perform surgery.

Already, there are major fields of research within the study of regenerative medicine. It could help a person born with a disease that prevents the proper functioning of a major organ by growing organs in a laboratory from the cells of the afflicted patient. Tissues, such as those found in heart valves, can also be engineered in hopes of repairing and maintaining tissue function with minimal surgery. Regenerative medicine works on a cellular level to replace cells lost from accidents and other diseases and afflictions.

Ipsita Banerjee, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received the $2.2 million New Innovator Award for her work in the growth and differentiation of embryonic stem cells. One objective of her research is to come up with a treatment for diabetes through the study of pancreatic islet cells, which have an active role in the regulation of insulin. As regenerative medicine encompasses many fields of science, Banerjee is taking a mathematical approach in studying the differentiation of these cells and the genes involved in regulating differentiation. She said, “The lab experiments will provide the dynamic trend on the process of differentiation, which will be used by the mathematical models to capture and predict the regulatory mechanisms controlling the process.”

Banerjee hopes that her research will be applicable to the differentiation of other cells. “The end product of my research will be a rigorous mechanistic understanding of the process of differentiation ... but the developed methodology will be general enough to be applicable to any other lineage-specific differentiation,” she said. Currently, researchers use their knowledge of organ development to recreate differentiation of stem cells in vitro, or in a laboratory, and this method is largely trial and error. Banerjee’s work will help researchers understand how pancreatic islet cells are derived from embryonic stem cells. “Our integrated approach will provide mechanistic details of the functioning of embryonic stem cell-derived pancreatic islet cells, and the predictive model will lay the foundation towards an informed decision-making in generating pancreatic islet cells of improved functionality.” Keeping the main focus of her research in mind, Banerjee said, “In summary, the impact will be in generating fully functional pancreatic islet cells which can be transplanted for treatment of diabetes.” Another researcher at the University of Pittsburgh is Eric Lagasse, whose work involves lymph nodes.

According to a press release from the University of Pittsburgh, he received a $2.9 million Transformative R01 grant for his research.

Lymph nodes are important in the trapping of foreign particles in the body. Lagasse’s research will be important in fighting diseases that impair the immune system, such as AIDS.

There is no shortage of research in regenerative medicine, and many researchers are working to discover innovative ideas that will accelerate our knowledge in the medical field. In the next five years, NIH is hoping to put together a total of $348 million in awards to researchers, although the cost of all the research will definitely be greater due to the large number of researchers working in the field of medical science.
With so many people working in this field, it is apparent that regenerative medicine is truly the next revolutionary step in health care.