Kappa Delta Ann Doner Vaughn Award Presented to UConn’s Albert and Wilda Van Dusen  Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery Dr. Cato Laurencin

Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD, was named the 2021 Kappa Delta Ann Doner Vaughn Award recipient for his 30 years of scientific research in musculoskeletal regenerative engineering, the field which he founded and brought to the forefront of translational medicine. Dr. Laurencin’s work at UConn Health has led to the development and advancement of biodegradable polymeric materials in bone repair and tissue regeneration. The Kappa Delta Awards recognize research in musculoskeletal disease and injury. Dr. Laurencin’s work has had great impact in advancing patient care.

“When I first started my laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988, bone was a primary target to study and develop as scientists had just learned how to actually grow human bone cells outside the body,” said Dr. Laurencin, the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and chief executive officer, Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering, University of Connecticut. “We essentially started a new field––regenerative engineering––and have continued to progress the field with a journal and a society, which brings together individuals from broad areas and viewpoints for the purposes of studying regeneration.”

Dr. Laurencin is the pioneer of the field, with an expertise in biomaterials science, stem cell science, biophysics and developmental biology. His work in regenerative engineering has led to singular honors. He is the first to receive the oldest/highest award of the National Academy of Medicine (the Walsh McDermott Medal) and the oldest/highest award of the National Academy of Engineering (the Simon Ramo Founders Award). In 2016, he received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, America’s highest honor for technological achievement from President Barack Obama in ceremonies at the White House.

Bone Regeneration Discovery

Each year, more than two million bone graft procedures worldwide are performed.[i] Autografts, where a patient’s own tissue is used, are the standard of care, but have constraints such as requiring a second surgery for graft harvesting. Allografts, which use donor tissue, run the risk of infection, have limited availability and may cause immune hypersensitivity. Therefore, there was a need to find an alternative, synthetic solution.

“Autografts are the gold standard for use in bone regeneration, but they have limitations in terms of donor site morbidity for harvesting and supply,” said Dr. Laurencin. “There has been great interest in examining ways to create engineered materials for bone regeneration in a variety of different areas and for different uses. Some of our work focused on the fact that we could create engineered materials that are actually inductive, that is, they can foster bone regeneration by themselves without the addition of morphogenetic factors.”

To discover an alternative, synthetic solution, Dr. Laurencin and his colleagues began to engineer musculoskeletal tissues, applying biological, chemical and engineering principles to repair, restore or regenerate living tissue using biomaterials, cells and additional factors alone and in combination. Over the past 30 years, he has explored the use of biodegradable polymeric and ceramic materials for use in bone repair, focusing on poly(ester), poly(anhydride) and poly(phosphazene) biomaterials alone or in combination with hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral, and other ceramics to form two- and three-dimensional (2D, 3D) matrices.

The research showed that the use of a matrix system could facilitate bone regeneration, providing a framework which osteoblasts (cells that form new bone) may bind its extracellular matrix (ECM) and bridge bone defects. The ECM is a structural support for cells that directs cell adhesion and migration as well as regulates cellular growth.[ii] The matrices are biodegradable and designed so that, over time, the osteoblasts secrete ECM, allowing the biomaterial to be completely absorbed and only regenerated bone remains.

Evaluating Bone Regeneration

Dr. Laurencin set out to study the behavior of osteoblasts on new materials, starting with 2D matrices, which supported the attachment, growth and osteoblast traits by osteoblast-like cells. He was able to design and produce novel materials that provided alternatives to currently available materials and has continued to develop additional novel polymers, making innovative blends with other degradable polymers. Polymers are materials made of long, repeating chains of molecules and are often used in plastics.[iii] Studies demonstrated that unique polymer systems, which have superior lab and animal studies performance, excellent physicochemical properties and unique erosion mechanisms, representing a major paradigm shift in biomaterials design for regenerative engineering.

Once Dr. Laurencin and his team established that these biomaterials could be used as bone regeneration platforms, they were the first to develop porous, biodegradable 3D-poly (organophosphazenes) [P(PHOS)] matrices for tissue regeneration. Studies demonstrated that the use of a 3D matrix increased the amount of cell growth on the matrix because of the significant increase in surface area over 2D structures. The matrices interconnecting, porous network enabled organized cell growth, ECM formation and mineralization (when the bone matrix becomes filled with calcium phosphate nanocrystals), showing that these materials could be used for bone engineering applications.

The researchers next developed a novel sintered microsphere matrix, a 3D matrix with a complete interconnected pore structure, resembling the structure of trabecular bone, which is found at the end of long bones such as the femur. This design allowed the newly forming bone to actually occupy the pore structure while the matrix degraded. After the matrix completely degraded, only the pore structure of the newly formed trabecular bone remained.

In Vivo Studies

The 3D matrix was then studied in animals (in vivo) and showed significant bone formation throughout the implant site by week eight when combined with growth factors demonstrating that the 3D matrix could be an effective bone graft.

Further in vivo research examined the potential of the 3D matrices as a composite without growth factors, utilizing matrices with human-derived mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in bone marrow. Composite materials, which are composed of two or more materials, were studied because these materials can offer numerous advantages such as strength. The results suggested that the composite designed with low crystalline ceramics had inherent osteoinductive properties, meaning new bone is formed by the transformation of stem cells into bone. The studies showed the flexibility of the matrices for bone engineering and the versatility for these matrices to deliver results through stem cells, bone cells, transfected cells (cells that have been introduced to foreign DNA) or directly from the scaffold. The composite matrix demonstrated that it could remineralize and remodel the defect site within eight weeks of injury without growth factors.

“Our work involving matrix- and material-based regeneration found that as we moved from smaller animals to larger animals, the materials tended to have an ability to become more functional and bioactive,” said Dr. Laurencin. “In a number of our regeneration studies for bone as well as soft tissue, we found that as we move to larger animals, we’ve been able to demonstrate more bioactivity and inductivity in terms of polymer ceramic materials.”

The Next Frontier: Limb Regeneration

Building on his work in bone and soft tissue regeneration, Dr. Laurencin has begun to apply regenerative engineering principals as an approach to regenerating complex tissues with the goal of limb regeneration. In 2016, the University of Connecticut announced a revolutionary project overseen by Dr. Laurencin––the Hartford Engineering a Limb (HEAL) Project, which aims to regenerate a human limb by 2030. Laurencin’s ambitious work has been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in awarding him the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize for “signal contributions to the advancement of science in the United States.”

[i] Campana V, Milano G, Pagano E, et al. Bone substitutes in orthopaedic surgery: from basic science to clinical practice. J Mater Sci Mater Med. 2014;25(10): 2445–2461.

[i][i] ScienceDirect. Extracellular Matrix. Accessed 1/11/2021.

[i][i][i] Live Science. What is a Polymer?


Professor Cato T. Laurencin Receives the 2020 Materials Research Society’s Von Hippel Award

Von Hippel Award photo

FARMINGTON, CT- On December 2, 2020, the Materials Research Society presented Dr. Cato T. Laurencin with the 2020 Von Hippel Award, the society’s highest and most prestigious honor.

“I am honored to be the recipient of one of the highest honors in the world for work in Materials Science, the Von Hippel Award of the Materials Research Society” said Dr. Laurencin

To quote from the Materials Research Society, “The award recognizes an individual with qualities most prized by materials scientists and engineers—brilliance and originality of intellect, combined with vision that transcends the boundaries of conventional scientific disciplines.”

Dr. Laurencin’s work in engineering, science, medicine and technology has been recognized in a number of ways. In engineering, he is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and received the Simon Ramo Founders Award. In medicine, he is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and received the Walsh McDermott Medal. In science, Dr. Laurencin is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and received the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize “for signal contributions to the advancement of science in the United States.” In technology, Dr. Laurencin is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed in America for technological achievement, from President Barack Obama in ceremonies at the White House.

In materials science, Dr. Laurencin is a pioneer in polymeric materials science for musculoskeletal systems. He produced seminal research work and discoveries in patents and papers on polymeric nanofiber technology, ushering in the field of nanomaterials for tissue regeneration. His work in published papers and patents focusing on polymer-ceramic systems inspired the development of biocomposite materials including interference screws for which he was named “One of the 100 Engineers of the Modern Era” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers at their centennial celebration. Fundamental research on polymeric fiber system for soft tissue regeneration has led to a number of soft tissue regenerative systems including the Laurencin-Copper (LC) bioengineered anterior cruciate ligament, now in humans. His work on engineered materials for soft tissue regeneration was highlighted by National Geographic Magazine in its “100 Scientific Discoveries that Changed the World” edition. He has worked with industry on the development and understanding of systems combining polymeric materials and allograft human tissue, creating technologies helping patients throughout the world.

The founder of the field of Regenerative Engineering, Laurencin’s new work focuses on the Convergence of advanced materials science including nanotechnology, biophysics, medicine, and developmental biology. At the University of Connecticut, he leads the Hartford Engineering a Limb (HEAL) project, aimed at regenerating a limb by 2030. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation currently fund his research work. He is the recipient of both the NIH Director’s Pioneer Grant Award and the NSF Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Grant Award.

In Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Laurencin is a Fellow of the Materials Research Society and has been the Fred Kavli Distinguished Lecturer and Plenary Speaker for the Materials Research Society. He has served as the Edward Orton, Jr., Memorial Lecturer and the Rustum Roy Lecturer for the American Ceramic Society. Dr. Laurencin is the recipient of the Acta Biomateriala Gold Medal which honors pioneers in the field of biomaterials, whose accomplishments in discovery and translation to practice are surpassing and well known in the field. In addition, the Society for Biomaterials has honored him by creating the Cato T. Laurencin Travel Fellowship which supports underrepresented students of color in the field of biomaterials.

Dr. Laurencin is a designated University Professor at the University of Connecticut, one of only two currently at the school. He serves as the Chief Executive Officer of The Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering. He is the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Materials Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering. He is a core faculty member of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Laurencin received his B.S.E in chemical engineering from Princeton University, and his M.D., magna cum laude, from the Harvard Medical School, receiving the Robinson Award for Surgery from National Medical Fellowships. He received his Ph.D. in biochemical engineering/biotechnology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was named a Hugh Hampton Young Fellow.

IRE Receives New NSF Grant

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Yusuf Khan, a faculty member of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering, has received new funding from the NSF. The research will evaluate the impact in vitro of RGD-modified alginate hydrogel stiffness and low-intensity pulsed ultrasound derived acoustic radiation force on encapsulated osteoblast behavior.  It will also assess the efficacy, in vivo, of transdermally applied acoustic radiation force on osteoblasts encapsulated in an RGD-modified alginate hydrogel and implanted into a mouse cranial defect. Combinations of hydrogel stiffness and acoustic radiation force levels will be investigated to determine the optimum levels for upregulating phenotypic markers and mineralization of the encapsulated osteoblasts. The optimum system is then being utilized in a mouse cranial defect model, with ultrasound force applied daily for 20 minutes a four-week period. The healing of the construct is being evaluated through histology and histomorphometry.

A tenured Associate Professor, Dr. Khan received his Masters and his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Drexel University.  He has appointments in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the UConn Health, as well as in the Department of Chemical, Materials, and Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UConn.

Congratulations to Dr. Khan on funding for this exciting project.

IRE Receives a New NIH/R21 Research Grant

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

Institute for Regenerative Engineering faculty members Dr. Thanh Nguyen (PI) and I (Co-I) have received new funding from the NIH/NIBIB. This proposed project aims to study the science and technology which allow creating a biodegradable, highly efficient piezoelectric stimulator and integrating the stimulator with a biological chondrocyte-seeded cartilage graft to form a bionic self-stimulated cartilage tissue. We believe this bionic cartilage will be able to self-harvest mechanical impacts from joint forces, generating useful electricity to sufficiently stimulate and accelerate its own healing and regeneration process.

Congratulations to Dr. Nguyen on funding for this exciting project.

IRE’s Lakshmi Nair Elected NAI Fellow

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

I am very happy to announce Dr. Lakshmi Nair has been elected to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). Dr. Nair is one of the youngest individuals to be elected to the NAI, and she is now the third person (preceded by Dr. Pramod Srivastava and me) to be elected at UConn. She currently serves as a tenured associate professor of orthopedic surgery and associate director for science administration in the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn Health; and also as a faculty member of biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering at UConn.

Election to NAI Fellow status is “the highest professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” Dr. Nair’s novel research focuses on the development of new therapies using regenerative biomaterials to enhance tissue repair and regeneration, including innovative ways to regrow musculoskeletal tissue.

In April, Dr. Nair will be inducted during NAI’s 6th Annual Conference which will take place at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. With the election of the 2016 class, she is now one of 757 NAI Fellows, representing 229 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Nair.

Kate Hayden of CICATS Receives 2016 40 Under Forty Award

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

Kate Hayden of CICATS Receives 2016 40-Under-Forty Award

I was happy to learn Kate Hayden, Research Facilitator and Community Outreach Coordinator for CICATS, has been named one of the Hartford Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty for 2016. As a CICATS team member, Kate has led the planning of multiple health disparities projects. She is also expanding our connections with community organizations for outreach events and education, which lead to partnerships for community-based participatory research grants.

Presented in September at the Connecticut Convention Center, the 40-Under-Forty Awards recognize outstanding young professionals in the Greater Hartford area who excel in their industries. They are driven by success, motivated by challenges and are role models for their peers. These individuals are part of an outstanding class of up and coming business leaders who share a commitment to business success, personal growth, and community involvement.

Please join me in congratulating Kate.

Presentation of the Nominees for 2016 Prix Galien USA Best Medical Technology

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

Last month, I had the pleasure of presenting the nominees for the 2016 Prix Galien Best Medical Technology Award in the Prix Galien USA Gala Awards Ceremony at New York City’s Museum of Natural History. The Prix Galien was created in 1970 in France by a pharmacist named Roland Mehl. It honors Galien, the father of medical science and modern pharmacology. Prizes are awarded for products and agents that improve the human condition. The Prix Galien USA awards prizes for therapeutics, including Best Pharmaceutical Agent, Best Biotechnology Product, and Best Medical Technology approved by the FDA in the past five years. The Prix Galien is considered to be the industry’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize and is the highest accolade for pharmaceutical research and development.

It was a great honor for me to serve on the Galien Foundation Committee. The presentation is online.

Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D. Lifetime Research Award

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

I am pleased to announce Dr. James R. Gavin III is the recipient of the 2016 Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D. Lifetime Research Award. This research award recognizes a lifelong dedication to the true science of medicine as a master clinician, incomparable researcher and teacher with the unique skills attributed to my vision.

Dr. Gavin is Clinical Professor of Medicine at both Emory University and Indiana University School of Medicine. He was president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta from 2002-2004. He served as senior scientific officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) from 1991-2002 and director of the HHMI-National Institutes of Health Research Scholars Program from 2000-2002. After graduating from Livingstone College in North Carolina in 1966 with a degree in chemistry, he earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Emory University in 1970 and his M.D. from Duke University School of Medicine in 1975.

Dr. Gavin represents the quintessential scientist, educator, trailblazer, and type of leader most people aspire to become. On behalf of the Board of Directors of the W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Institute, I thank Dr. Gavin for his many efforts and resulting accomplishments.

The Meritorious Achievement Award

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

The Meritorious Achievement Award

On July 30, I was honored to be named the recipient of the Meritorious Achievement Award during the opening awards ceremony of the National Medical Association’s 2016 Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly in Los Angeles.

This achievement award is given for noted national and international achievement and prominence. In addition, this award recognizes individuals of national and international stature whose efforts significantly benefit health and medicine.

My sincere and humble thanks to the NMA for granting me this notable honor.

2016 Connecticut Medal of Technology

By Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

On May 24, I was very happy to receive the prestigious Connecticut Medal of Technology at the 41st Annual Meeting & Dinner of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE), at the University of New Haven. The Connecticut Medal of Technology is the State of Connecticut’s highest honor for technological achievement in fields crucial to Connecticut’s economic competitiveness.

It is wonderful to receive this recognition for the work I have been doing in Connecticut. Besides our work in science, we have started a number of successful companies here and have been able to reach back by working in STEM education in the state. I am particularly gratified that the state has recognized my work in making Bioscience Connecticut a reality. I wanted to thank those who nominated me and supported my nomination, including Provost Mun Choi here at the University of Connecticut. And, of course, thank you to my extended family, colleagues, and friends who have always supporting me and my vision over the many years.

2016 Connecticut Medal of Technology

2016 Connecticut Medal of Technology

2016 Connecticut Medal of Technology