Blacksburg, Va. -- Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers will use more than $1 million in grant funding to study engineered tissues that mimic the liver, one of the human body's most complex organs.
Padma Rajagopalan, an assistant professor in the department of chemical engineering (http://www.che.vt.edu), is designing liver mimics that eventually could form the basis for extracorporeal liver-assist devices. She is the principal investigator on three recent federal grants totaling $1,087,091 related to liver tissue engineering.
The liver plays a major role in the body's defense mechanisms and performs a multitude of functions including metabolism and detoxification. The deterioration in any one of the liver's functions can cause life-threatening health problems or death. Liver transplants are extremely expensive, may not be appropriate for patients at a high risk for surgery, or may simply not be possible due to a lack of suitable donors.
The primary research goal of these projects is to assemble 3D cellular structures that mimic the liver using the major cell types found in the liver. Rajagopalan's interest in this research began when she conducted studies on liver tissue engineering while she was a research associate at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, from 2002 to 2004.
"Liver cells can regenerate inside the body, but lose this ability once removed," said Rajagopalan. "Therefore, researchers need to find a way to sustain cells in vitro. A critical aspect is capturing the precise spacing between different cell types in the liver." At Harvard Medical School, Rajagopalan developed a novel method that uses biocompatible, nanoscale polyelectrolyte scaffolds to replicate the spatial configuration within the liver.
A $419,230 grant from the National Institute of Health is for the projec
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