October 20, 2009

Stimulus Projects Designed to Heal, Prevent and Restore

Biomedical Engineering Faculty at Case Western Reserve University Receives
More Than $3.5 Million in Grants

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University's Department of Biomedical Engineering have been awarded more than $3.5 million in National Institutes of Health stimulus grants aimed at improving human health and economic development.

The scientists, at the Case School of Engineering and the School of Medicine, are devising new ways to see and treat cancer, help amputees reach and grasp a ball with a prosthetic arm controlled by thought, grow blood vessels essential to engineering replacement tissues for injured or diseased patients, and more.

The grant money will support new researchers, new equipment and the research itself. Down the road, scientists expect to commercialize technology they develop and contribute to industries in this part of the state.

  • Zheng-Rong Lu is developing imaging agents that are safer than those currently available and would enable doctors to detect cancers earlier.

Some contrast agents used in Magnetic Resonance Imagers (MRIs) can cause serious, even fatal damage in patients suffering from kidney problems. The goal of the project is to make low-dose contrast agents that bond to biomarkers produced by malignant tumors from lung, breast and other cancers, Lu explained.

But even at decreased doses, the agents would be more sensitive than current agents, enabling them to show cancer earlier. The low dose, Lu said, would decrease the toxicity.

  • James P. Basilion's lab is doing pioneering work exploiting the overexpression of enzymes associated with tumors to better define tumor margins, with the goal of improving the accuracy of cancer surgery. With this new grant, he wants to take advantage of the discovery that a type of untreatable brain cancer expresses genes differently from normal brain cells.

Basilion's lab will use those differences to develop markers to diagnose and help guide treatment of cancer of the gilal cells—cells that support neurons of the brain. Currently, glial tumors aren't diagnosed until they can be seen in an MRI scan and by that time, the mean survival is six months to a year.

The methods developed could be used for diagnosis and treatment of other cancers, which also change the way genes are expressed, Basillion said.

  • Jeff Duerk, chairman of the Biomedical Engineering Department, and Efstathios Karathanasis, a visiting assistant professor in the Joint Imaging Center, received funding to hire an assistant professor. The new professor will coordinate efforts among the department, the Case Center for Imaging Research, the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center to push beyond one-size-fits-all approaches for cancer patients and develop customizable imaging, diagnostic and therapeutic assessments.

A search committee has received about 20 applicants. The candidate who is hired would bring post doctoral researchers to the school and bring or hire graduate students to assist in the research, Duerk said.

The new professor would lead development of what Duerk calls image-guided cancer therapeutics. In this case, use nanoprticles to design and build multifunctional imaging agents that can work with a patient's own biology. The agents would enable a doctor to diagnose cancers early – before they've fully developed blood vessels that receive nutrients, remove waste products and act as conduits for cancer to spread to other parts of the body. The agents would also be used to treat or direct treatment to the tumor and predict and monitor the effects of anticancer drugs.

  • Dominique Durand is working with graduate student Brian Wodlinger and math professors Daniela Calvetti and Erkki J. Somersalo to create a system that would enable an amputee to control a prosthetic arm by thought.

Electrodes, wrapped around the nerves that controlled the lost arm, record signals from the brain. The signals are then sent to a computer where an algorithm sorts out the various components of the signals and relays the information electronically to activate the elbow, wrist and hand of a prosthetic arm as the patient imagines the movement.

"This technology could also be useful in patients who have suffered a spinal cord injury or stroke," Durand said.

Teams of researchers received NIH "Challenge Grants" to build blood vessels that would grow in engineered organs, bones and other tissues. The vascular networks are needed in order to grow replacement parts for patients injured or suffering from disease.

  • Roger Marchant and Horst von Recum will use a mouse as a model to develop technology that will benefit humans.

Marchant's lab has created synthetic molecules that help form coatings on vascular grafts or latch onto bacteria and target them for drugs. He'll develop molecules that assemble into the scaffolding for blood vessels.

Von Recum's lab, which has found ways to identify which stem cells are best suited to develop into the cells that line blood vessels, will genetically modify the cells to find and attach to the scaffolding, and break down and remodel the scaffolding, as occurs naturally.

  • Eben Alsberg is collaborating with researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Duke University to develop a different technology to grow blood vessels. They are using magnetic nanoparticles to manipulate cells that line blood vessels.

The researchers will mix cells and nanoparticles in a solution, Alsberg said. By applying an external magnetic field they'll move the cells into positions where they can grow into tubes, and, eventually, link up into a network.

  • Alsberg is also working with Kenneth Laurita, an associate professor of medicine and biomedical engineering, to prevent sudden cardiac death in patients who've suffered heart attacks.

Their goal is to apply new cells to damaged parts of the heart that are critical to the initiation and spread of abnormal electrical impulses that cause rapid heart rhythms. They will develop technologies to increase the rate at which replacement cells engraft and survive, restoring normal electrical activity and preventing fatal, rapid heart rhythms.

For more information contact Kevin Mayhood, 216.368.4442.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, October 20, 2009 01:11 PM | News Topics: Case School of Engineering, Collaborations/Partnerships, College of Arts and Sciences, Faculty, Grants, Research, School of Medicine, Students

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