Shriners Children’s Boston Research Team Makes Strides With Tissue Engineering Grant
A team of investigators at Shriners Children's Boston has received a Shriners Children's research grant to pursue a project focused on tissue engineering. This emerging area of interest in reconstructive surgery holds promise for the treatment of damaged skin in patients who have suffered a serious burn or other traumatic injury.
“We began this project five years ago, and a few years into our work we received funding from Shriners Children’s,” said Principal Investigator Basak Uygun, Ph.D. “We hope that our results will be impactful for Shriners patients and the larger community as well.”
Dr. Uygun’s research team is partnering with Curtis Certulo, M.D., Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and a plastic surgeon at Shriner’s Children’s Boston. They are focused on engineering new tissues for patients with skin wounds resulting from a congenital condition or a traumatic injury, like a burn. Sometimes patients don’t have enough healthy tissue to help repair the injured area through grafting or other methods, and compatible donors can be very hard to find. The goal of the Shriners Children’s Boston researchers is to create new alternatives for these patients. According to Dr. Uygun, “We are making from scratch the tissues that our patients need.”
The process of creating new tissue is accomplished by using donor skin flaps from cadavers. All of the cells are removed from the skin flap in order to create a template, or scaffold, that is then repopulated with healthy cells from the patient. This scaffold can then be transplanted into the patient through a method called vascularized composite allotransplantation, or VCA.
“With our approach, we can engineer tissues using cells from the patient instead of a donor, meaning they will have no risk of rejection,” said Dr. Uygun. “Children with burn injuries will benefit the most from this type of treatment, as they will not need to take immunosuppressive drugs for their lifetime.”
For burn patients, this type of reconstructive surgery would take place after their wounds have begun to heal. Scars can occur over time that impact a patient’s mobility, and surgical repairs to the affected area require healthy tissue. If patients don’t have enough healthy tissue from their own bodies, the VCA approach can be used. There is time to prepare this engineered substitute for the damaged tissue because the patient is past the acute phase of their injury.
“We have made significant progress towards this goal, thanks to Shriners support,” said Dr. Uygun. “In the future we will further our research to bring this approach closer to clinical application, and we will apply the same principles to other VCA types, such as digits or limbs.”
As their current Shriners Children’s grant comes to a close, Dr. Uygun and her team are busy compiling data and submitting their findings for publication. They plan to apply for more Shriners Children’s research funding as their tissue engineering project continues, helping to improve outcomes for patients throughout our healthcare system and beyond.
Dr. Basak Uygun is currently an Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Scientist at Shriners Children’s Boston. Dr. Uygun received her BS and MSc in chemical engineering from Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. She moved to the United States for graduate school, receiving a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and materials science from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Her work in tissue engineering and biomaterials was supervised by Dr. Howard Matthew, a former research fellow at Shriners Children’s Boston. With his recommendation, Dr. Uygun began her career at Shriners Children’s Boston in 2006 as a postdoctoral research fellow, focusing on biomaterials to improve wound healing in burn patients. She has worked with many talented researchers from all training levels, mentoring postdoctoral fellows who have moved on to independent academic and industrial careers.
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