The University of Utah is recognized as a Top-Tier 1 research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions in Higher Education. According to the Vice President of Research the University was awarded 2,326 grants in 2018 and had $515 million in research funding. According to the National Institutes of Health, the university received $152,843,112 from them this year.
Research is conducted through its 18 colleges, 35 interdisciplinary programs, 100 academic departments/ divisions, and 120 centers/bureaus on campus. The Department of Bioengineering, part of Utah’s College of Engineering, is one of many places on the Salt Lake City Campus where scientific breakthroughs are constantly happening. An example of this is the development of a method to use 3D bioprinters to create human tissue such as ligaments and tendons.
The method involves taking stem cells from the patient’s own body fat and printing them on a layer of hydrogel to form a tendon or ligament. This tissue would then be grown in vitro in a culture before being implanted.
“It will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites, which has its own source of problems,” stated University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles in an article for UNEWS. Bowles co-authored the paper about the team’s research that was recently published in the Journal of Tissue Engineering.
This new method is only possible because of new technologies. The process of printing tendons and ligaments is extremely complicated because that kind of connective tissue is made up of different cells arranged in complex patterns. The cells must gradually shift to bone cells so the tissue can attach to the bone. To do this, researchers used a 3-D printer typically used to print antibodies for cancer screening applications. But Bowles’ team developed a special printhead that can lay down human cells in the controlled manner required.
Currently, treatment involves harvesting replacement tissue for patients from another part of the patient’s body or sometimes from a cadaver, but this tissue can be of poor quality. An additional use for the new bioprinting process is spinal discs which are complicated structures with bony interfaces that must be recreated to be successfully transplanted. This 3-D-printing technique solves all those transplant issues.
In fact Bowles, said in the same article that the technology “...could be used for any type of tissue engineering application.” he says. It also could be applied to the 3-D printing of whole organs, an idea researchers have been studying for years. Bowles also says the technology in the printhead could be adapted for any kind of 3-D printer.
Bowles research focus includes Tissue Engineering, Regenerative Medicine, Gene Therapy, CRISPR, and Immunoengineering.
1. CRISPR Cell Engineering - Engineer cells to promote functional tissue development in pathological environments.
2. Intervertebral Disc Tissue Engineering - Engineer intervertebral disc tissue that thrives in an inflammatory environment and produces a mechanically functional and restorative tissue
3. Mechanisms of Back Pain - Study the interactions between the mechanics of the intervertebral disc, the peripheral nervous system, and inflammation to better understand the underlying molecular events that lead to back pain
The University's Department of Bioengineering spends an average $17.0 million per year on research.
Laboratory equipment suppliers wishing to meet face to face with the well funded researchers at The University of Utah should plan on particpating in the BioResearch Product Faire™ held on campus on March 29th, 2019.