Worcester, Mass. - June 30, 2006 - Worcester Polytechnic Institute today announced that it has signed an agreement with CellThera Inc., a Worcester-based biotechnology start-up firm, to conduct joint research aimed at developing techniques for restoring tissue--including digits and limbs--damaged or lost due to traumatic injury.
As part of the agreement, two principals in CellThera, Tanja Dominko, president and chief scientific officer, and senior scientist Raymond Page, will hold research faculty appointments in WPI's Biology and Biotechnology Department and the WPI Bioengineering Institute (BEI). The research will be conducted in laboratories on the WPI campus and, beginning next spring, in the new WPI Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park. WPI faculty members with expertise in tissue engineering, wound healing, stem cells, and related fields are expected to be involved in the project.
CellThera is a collaborator on a multi-institution research program funded by a one-year, $3.9 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. Tulane University, where work will be conducted by a team led by Ken Muneoka, professor of cell and molecular biology, is the lead institution for the program. Other collaborators include scientists at the University of California-Irvine and a researcher at the University of Louisville. The multi-center study is one of only two projects in the country funded by DARPA aimed at advancing the field of tissue restoration.
"Combining WPI's resources and academic approach to basic research with CellThera's performance-driven research milestones will accelerate the translation of research results into medical products," Dominko noted.
"This is an exciting opportunity to combine the resources and expertise of CellThera with the extensive experience and talents of the WPI faculty," said Eric W. Overström, professor and head of WPI's Biology and Biotechnology Department.
"Through this collaboration, we will be advancing a field that has a tremendous potential to transform the treatment of traumatic injuries. This research is especially important today, given the large number of military personnel who have suffered catastrophic injuries and loss of limbs, but the benefits of tissue regeneration and restoration will extend widely and be felt in many areas of medicine and health care."
"This is an excellent example of the kinds of industry-university partnerships we seek to nurture through the Bioengineering Institute and the new Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park," noted BEI director W. Grant McGimpsey. "Through these vehicles, WPI brings together scientists engaged in cutting-edge research in the life sciences and companies and organizations that can translate new discoveries into products and technologies that can improve the effectiveness of health care and the quality of our lives."
The immediate goal of the DARPA award, which may be extended for up to an additional three years, is to find ways to harness the body's natural regenerative abilities to heal limb wounds that involve bone, muscle, nerves, and soft tissue. For a model of tissue restoration, the scientists will look to the salamander, the only vertebrate that can regrow functional limbs as an adult. Adult salamanders are able to restore lost limbs by first making a blastema, a mass of undifferentiated cells much like stem cells. The same type of "bud" is produced when a human child loses only the tip of a finger, but that capability is lost by adulthood.
The researchers will then attempt to recreate that regenerative ability in the mouse, giving this animal model the ability to develop a blastema and regenerate digits. The researchers say they hope that if they are successful in achieving limb regrowth in a mammalian model, it will be the first step toward the long-term goal of regenerating digits, and perhaps whole limbs, in humans.
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Founded in 1865 in Worcester, Mass., WPI was one of the first engineering and technology universities in the nation. WPI's 18 academic departments offer more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts, leading to the BS, MS, ME, MBA and PhD. WPI's world-class faculty work with students in a number of cutting-edge research areas, leading to breakthroughs and innovations in such fields as biotechnology, fuel cells, nanotechnology, and information security. Students also have the opportunity to make a difference to communities and organizations around the world through our innovative Global Perspectives program. There are over 20 WPI project centers throughout North America and Central America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.