Plastics techniques, for people

Posted on 01. Sep, 2010 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Healthcare and Medicine, Issues, Mechanical Engineering, Research

Six years ago, Mechanical Engineering Professor Lih-Sheng (Tom) Turng and then-PhD student Adam Kramschuster brainstormed how to use their expertise in polymer processing to make a larger difference for society. Out of their discussions came the idea to transfer polymer fabrication techniques to the field of tissue engineering—and the pair are now part of a major interdisciplinary project expected to yield a new process for mass-producing tissue scaffolds within three to five years.

The project, called Bio-Nanocomposite Tissue Engineering Scaffolds, or Bionates, is one of five proposals included in the new Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, a public institution at UW-Madison focused on enhancing human health and welfare through interdisciplinary research.

Human mesenchymal stem cells grown on nanocomposite scaffolds.

Human mesenchymal stem cells grown on nanocomposite scaffolds.

The Bionates team will develop and study tissue engineering scaffolds, which are biological substrates used for constructing human tissue outside of the body. The scaffolds are used in conjunction with specially designed micro-environments, which help guide how stem cells differentiate into various cell types and then grow into tissues on scaffolds.  The ultimate goal is to use these tissues for a wide variety of medical treatments, such as skin patches for burn victims or insulin-generating cell implants, to name only a couple.

While researchers have successfully fabricated tissue scaffolds, they can only do so one at a time. Bionates researchers will blend their expertise to develop a manufacturing process to mass-produce scaffolds with consistent quality and properties. Several manufacturing processes used to produce various plastics have potential for use in mass-producing tissue scaffolds. A patent-pending injection molding process developed in the Polymer Engineering Center—which Turng co-directs—is particularly promising.

Led by Turng, the Bionates team includes Engineering Physics Professor Wendy Crone; Biomedical Engineering Associate Professors Shaoqin (Sarah) Gong, Kristyn Masters and Bill Murphy, and Assistant Professor Wan-Ju Li; Physiology Professor Tim Kamp; and Medical History and Bioethics Associate Professor Linda Hogle. Kramschuster, now an assistant professor of engineering and technology at UW-Stout, rounds out the current team, which will expand to include more faculty members in the coming years.

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