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From plastics to people:
Bionates team tranfers polymer processing to tissue-scaffold engineering

Human mesenchymal stem cells attached and grown on nanocomposite scaffolds seven days after seeding

Human mesenchymal stem cells attached
and grown on nanocomposite scaffolds
seven days after seeding.

Human mesenchymal stem cells attached and grown on nanocomposite scaffolds seven days after seeding

Decorative initial cap Oix years ago, Professor Lih-Sheng (Tom) Turng and then-PhD student Adam Kramschuster (MS ’05, PhD ’08) brainstormed how to use their expertise in polymer processing to make a larger difference for society. Out of their discussions came the idea to transfer polymer fabrication techniques to the field of tissue engineering—and the pair are now part of a major interdisciplinary project expected to yield a new process for mass-producing tissue scaffolds within three to five years.

The project, called Bio-Nanocomposite Tissue Engineering Scaffolds, or Bionates, is one of five proposals included in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID), a public institution at UW-Madison focused on enhancing human health and welfare through interdisciplinary research. (The private Morgridge Institute for Research complements WID.)

The Bionates team will develop and study tissue engineering scaffolds, which are biological substrates used for constructing human tissue outside of the body. The scaffolds are used in conjunction with specially designed micro-environments, which help guide how stem cells differentiate into various cell types and then grow into tissues on scaffolds. “Producing scaffold structures with material compositions that mimic natural tissues is not that difficult,” Turng says. “The difficult part is understanding how cell-material interactions affect cell differentiation and cell fate.”

Lih-Sheng (Tom) Turng

The ultimate goal is to use these neo-tissues for a wide variety of medical treatments, including skin patches for burn victims and insulin-generating cell implants. Half a trillion dollars are spent each year in the United States alone on treatments for tissue damage caused by injury or aging, says Turng. “Tissue engineering provides a new approach to taking advantage of a human’s own healing power and regenerative capabilities to grow functional tissue for use in medicine,” he says.

While researchers have successfully fabricated tissue scaffolds, they can only do so one at a time. Turng and his team will blend their expertise to develop a manufacturing process to mass-produce scaffolds with consistent quality and properties. This will help address a growing demand for these scaffolds by patients and other tissue engineering researchers who need access to custom scaffolds for various cell culture experiments.

Several manufacturing processes used to produce various plastics have potential for use in mass-producing tissue scaffolds. A patent-pending injection molding process developed in the UW-Madison Polymer Engineering Center,which Turng co-directs, is particularly promising. “The scaffold itself can be made of synthetic or natural polymer materials, and there’s a one-to-one correspondence between polymer processing and scaffold fabrication methods,” he says.

Led by Turng, the Bionates team includes Engineering Physics Professor Wendy Crone; Biomedical Engineering Associate Professors Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, Kristyn Masters and Bill Murphy and Assistant Professor Wan-Ju Li; Physiology Professor Tim Kamp and Medical History and Bioethics Associate Professor Linda Hogle. Kramschuster, an assistant professor of engineering and technology at UW-Stout, rounds out the current team, which will expand to include more faculty members and researchers in the coming years. “We’ve found good synergy in combining material scientists, mechanical engi-neers, cell biologists, and biomedical researchers to work together to develop and fabricate scaffolds with desirable attributes,” says Turng.

An important component of Bionates is its public outreach efforts. “WID is a major state initiative, so we need to garner support and educate the general public about the kind of positive impact this research is going to have on human health,” Turng says, explaining that including social science and humanities researchers on the team will help the scientists translate their work to a broader audience, going beyond scientific publications to include exhibits and the arts. “We want to show the value this team brings to campus and society as a whole.”.


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Date last modified: Monday, 20-December-2010
Date created: 20-December-2010