Biology-Engineering Partnership Could Heal Diseased Hearts

Biology-Engineering Partnership Could Heal Diseased Hearts

A patient with a diseased heart may one day be able to “grow” a replacement organ from adult stem cells harvested from his own body, thanks to research being conducted by two University of Central Florida scientists.

Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences and Dr. Aristide Dogariu of the College of Optics and Photonics were recently awarded a $329,764 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a noninvasive method for regulating the motion of cells. The study is titled “Optical Control of Cellular Biomechanics.”

“Now we’re working on making tissue in culture, then transplanting it,” Dr. Sugaya said.

The project aims to use a polarized laser to build a blood vessel from adult stem cells that have been extracted from blood, Dr. Sugaya said. The laser will gently control the movement of the cells, nudging them into the correct position layer by layer to create a vessel.

This approach differs from previous technology that used artificial structures called scaffolds to support tissue formation and has several advantages, Dr. Sugaya said. Using a weaker light source instead of a strong laser means there is less danger that the cells would be killed or damaged.

Also, the research could potentially reduce the risk of rejection for transplant patients when their own adult stem cells are used to custom-engineer new organs.

Dr. Sugaya said the project’s optical-control technology also could bring relief to patients suffering from heart disease or diabetes. Diseased blood vessels could be replaced with healthy ones to get more oxygen to a heart or improve circulation in a diabetic who suffers from foot problems.

More research is needed before a patient can take a pill and grow a kidney, as portrayed in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”   when Dr. McCoy and a 20th-century patient crossed paths. But the concept of regenerative medicine – using the body’s own stem cells and other factors to repair itself – has moved closer to reality in recent years.

“I like the cooperation between biology and engineering,” said Dr. Sugaya. “It’s a fruitful partnership.”