Public Release: 

GW professor aims to 3-D print smart vascularized tissue

Lijie Grace Zhang is first GW professor to receive NIH Director's New Innovator Award for high-risk, high-reward research

George Washington University

WASHINGTON--A George Washington University researcher doing pioneering work toward the goal of 3-D printing complex tissues aims to help revolutionize the way the medical field conducts transplants.

As the recipient of the 2014 Director's New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health, Lijie Grace Zhang, assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, has received $2,287,500 for her five-year project, "A Novel 3-D Bioprinted Smart Vascularized Nano Tissue."

Citing the program's purpose to propose highly innovative research projects that have the potential for unusually high impact, Dr. Zhang said, "3-D printing techniques have the potential to change the way the medical community cares for patients."

Critical-sized bone defects caused by traumatic injury, cancer or disease are notoriously difficult to regenerate. Large portions of tissue need to have an adequate vascular network to survive and thrive post-defect. This project will combine Dr. Zhang's experience in nanobiomaterials, tissue engineering and drug delivery with advanced 3-D bioprinting techniques to develop new ways to grow complex replacement tissues.

"Our 3-D bioprinting system will have two distinctive features from those of other labs," Dr. Zhang said. "First, a class of highly innovative nanomaterials will be designed for 3-D bioprinting. Since human tissue in its basic form is full of nanoscale features, these nanomaterials will play a key role in facilitating the repair and regeneration of tissues. Second, our printed microvascular network will be smart. The term 'smart' originates from the shape memory material used in the formation of our microvascular network. With this award, I want to create a product that is really useful for human health."

The New Innovator Award supports investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency, who have not yet received a research project grant (R01) or equivalent NIH grant, to conduct innovative research.

"Professor Zhang's research has the potential to impact not only clinical bone treatment and tissue and organ regeneration, but also basic physical and life science research," said David Dolling, dean of SEAS. "Researchers who are able to develop the sorts of insights that spawn truly pioneering investigations like Professor Zhang's are rare, and the NIH New Innovator awards are rightly reserved for them."

The award comes as Dr. Zhang prepares to move into a newly constructed Science and Engineering Hall, which opens to the public in January 2015 and allows her to collaborate easily among her fellow scientists and researchers at the university. The approximately 500,000-square-foot building will include ultramodern research facilities, such as a nano-materials fabrication clean room and an imaging suite.

"Dr. Zhang's innovative research will make significant contributions to the field of tissue engineering and will have a positive impact on many lives," said Michael Plesniak, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

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"A Novel 3D Bioprinted Smart Vascularized Nano Tissue" is funded by the National Institutes of Health under award number DP2EB020549.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science

GW's School of Engineering and Applied Science prepares engineers and computer scientists to address society's technological challenges by offering outstanding undergraduate, graduate and professional educational programs, and by providing innovative, fundamental and applied research activities. The school has six academic departments, 11 research centers, 90 faculty and more than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Core areas of excellence include biomedical engineering, cybersecurity, high performance computing and simulation of engineering systems, nanotechnologies, robotics and systems engineering.

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