AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. Krishnendu Roy, a University of Texas at Austin biomedical engineering assistant professor, has received $224,795 from the Whitaker Foundation to begin studying the feasibility of growing organs from a single adult stem cell.
Roy will begin the research using a new method of creating tissue scaffolds, frame-like structures used to provide mechanical strength and form to engineered tissues.
Roy’s initial research, done in collaboration with Mechanical Engineering Professor Dr. Shaochen Chen, will create scaffolds that can control when and where tissues develop, using various growth factors. His work will attempt to mimic a stem cell’s biochemical environment during organ development and allow researchers to have precise control over the place and time of a given tissue’s development. It will also allow them to see how these factors influence the growth and differentiation of stem cells into different types of tissues.
“Maybe five years from now, we can think about the design of particular organs and try to see if you can structurally engineer that kind of organ regeneration,” Roy says.
When organs are naturally formed, they begin with a single stem cell. Under the influence of its environment it can become other cells, a process called differentiation. Biological growth factors are the key components of this environment that allow the formation of complex organ structures.
The spatial distribution of these growth factors is, for example, the reason our nose is in the middle of our face and not in the middle of our forehead. The growth factors also determine when and where each feature of an organ develops in the embryonic stage. In research labs, precisely controlling the distribution of growth factors has been a daunting task for tissue engineers.
“Tissue engineering until now has mostly involved single cell types,” Roy says. “For complex organs, like the liver or heart, you need to grow multiple cell types and they need to be in a very spatially distributed fashion.”
Usually, researchers simply mix growth factors with biomaterials and create a scaffold. Roy and his research group will fabricate the scaffolds more meticulously. Using a laser, they will create one layer at a time, adding a different growth factor to each layer, and at the same time engineer molecules that will separate the growth factors and hold them in place. The researchers hope this will allow them to control spatial distribution, preventing the soluble growth factors from moving between layers.
They also plan to use polymers to “entrap” growth factors, controlling the rate at which they are released.
Roy and his colleagues are working with stem cells from mice, hoping eventually to work with adult human stem cells.
If his group is successful, he says, they can potentially apply the research to any organ, as long as they know how the stem cells differentiate.
For more information contact: Becky Rische, College of Engineering, 512-471-7272.