A bioengineering professor at the University of Texas, Arlington is the recipient of a $1.04 million grant from the United States Army to fund his work on using injectable, biodegradable microscaffolding to facilitate enhanced cartilage and bone healing using autologous stem cell transplant technology.
Professor Liping Tang said, “We’ve found that if we inject microscaffolding that we’ve developed into the injured area, it can trigger the stem cell generation needed for proper healing.” Through his study, he hopes to give stem cells a more detailed set of “instructions” on how to heal the injury. Currently, Tang is the interim chair of the bioengineering department, and will be leading the study geared towards helping US soldiers recover better and faster from injuries sustained in battle.
Improper healing has been known to lead to an arthritic condition known as post-traumatic osteoarthritis, which is a common longterm result of soldiers who sustained skeletal trauma from blasts, shrapnel, and gunshots. The microscaffolding will attract and utilize an injected autologous sample of stem cells and release biomolecules that trigger the cells’ transformation into cartilage cells to help speed up recovery and reduce arthritic symptoms.
This research initiative may prove highly beneficial even for regular osteoarthritis, as today’s patients merely resort to symptom alleviation through anti-inflammatory agents and analgesics, which are effective only in the early stages of the disease. There is still no known cure or means to repair this condition, so when the disease stops responding to treatment, some patients undergo joint replacements. Even these procedures are not free of the risk for improper healing, and would entail a number of maintenance clinic visits.
Khosrow Behbehani, the dean of the College of Engineering, said Tang’s work will also help minimize the risk of immune rejection, and any ethical concerns because of the autologous nature of the stem cell transplant. While stem cells have long been used to help alleviate inflammation, the technology has yet to allow cartilage repair. Tang and his team expects the research to progress into clinical trials in the next 5 years to hopefully hasten healing and reduce subsequent ailments and disabilities.