Lagasse's work focuses on lymph nodes, which are important in responses to bacterial and viral infection and are found throughout the body. Even spread out, the total mass of the nodes makes them a feasible place to grow liver cells, for example, which must also be available in abundance and with ample blood flow to provide life-sustaining hepatic function, Lagasse said. His team will explore growing liver and other tissues in such "ectopic" sites, meaning outside of where it would normally reside. The same principle of using lymph nodes as a site for ectopic cell factories might work for replacing pancreas cells that make insulin for patients with diabetes or immune system T-cells for patients who have AIDS and other diseases of immunologic-impairment.
"Our regenerative medicine approach for healing damaged tissues and organs might not have moved forward without this new grant concept," Lagasse noted. "This funding supports assessment and rapid translation from the bench to the bedside of nontraditional treatments."
Banerjee will investigate the process through which embryonic stem cells become mature, organ-specific cells and how scientists can control that development. Using a bottom-up approach, Banerjee will cultivate stem cells into pancreatic cells, noting molecular-level information that could be integrated into dictating cell development, such as the influence of environmental factors and gene and protein networks.
"I want to take a completely different approach to addressing the complex process of cell development, which will potentially advance our understanding of regenerative medicine and stem cell bioengineering as a whole," Banerjee said.
Two Pitt researchers have received NIH Director's awards in the past. In 2007, Eva Szigethy, of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and an assistant professor of psychiatry
|Contact: Morgan Kelly|
University of Pittsburgh