Author: Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.

Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award

Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman AwardI was proud to receive the prestigious Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award last month in Atlanta, Georgia. It recognizes individuals who have worked to inspire their students to be mentors themselves. I was nominated by my former student Dr. Saadiq El-Amin who is currently a professor of orthopaedic surgery at Southern Illinois University who is mentoring a new generation of students and individuals in the community. I am grateful to Dr. El-Amin and the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award Advisory Committee for this award.

Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award

Pirkey Lectureship at the University of Texas, Austin

Pirkey LectureshipIt was my honor and privilege to serve as Visiting Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin. During the visit, I delivered the Pirkey lectureship entitled “Musculoskeletal Regenerative Engineering: Taking on the Grand Challenges.” My talk highlighted the tremendous work being carried out here at the Institute for Regenerative Engineering. More specifically, I discussed the unprecedented strides predicted for the next decade in regenerating musculoskeletal tissues, a move from an era of advanced prosthetics to what we terms “Regenerative Engineering.”

I so appreciated the hospitality provided by the university and I thank Professor Nicholas A. Peppas, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Pharmacy Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, in particular, for inviting me to visit this great institution.

Professor Tao Jiang Joins the Faculty of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering

Tao Jiang, Ph.D., M.B.A.I am very pleased to announce that Dr. Tao Jiang, CICATS Investigator Advocate and Assistant Professor of Medicine, has been appointed to the faculty of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering. Dr. Jiang received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1999 and an M.S. in Materials Science in 2001, both from Tsinghua University in Beijing.

He then went on to pursue his doctoral degree and received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. His doctoral research, under my supervision, focused on the design, development, and evaluation of novel hybrid scaffolds from natural polymer chitosan and synthetic polymer PLGA for bone-tissue engineering.

Dr. Jiang joined Zimmer, Inc., one of the world’s leading medical device companies, as a senior research scientist immediately after obtaining his Ph.D. At Zimmer, he played a variety of leading roles in evaluating and exploring cutting-edge technologies for the regeneration of musculoskeletal tissues including bone, cartilage, ligament, and tendon. In addition, he played a key role in developing Chondrofix Allograft for cartilage repair. Fully launched in the U.S. in 2011, it was the first Zimmer biological product developed in-house.

Dr. Jiang has over 20 peer-reviewed publications in journals such as Biomaterials, Journal of Biomedical Materials Research, Acta Biomaterialia, and PNAS, as well as many conference presentations. He has six issued/pending patents and invention disclosures.

At the University of Virginia, Dr. Jiang was awarded the 2008 Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Studies. At Zimmer, he received a Zimmer Publication Award from the chief scientific officer and a Zimmer Impact Award from the company.

Dr. Jiang serves as a peer reviewer for a number of high-impact scientific journals including Biomaterials, Carbohydrate Polymers, and Materials Science and Engineering.

Dr. Jiang’s research interests include advanced biomaterials, drug delivery, tissue engineering, and therapies for musculoskeletal diseases.

Speaking for all of the Institute faculty, we are excited to have him join us, and we look forward to working with our newest faculty colleague.

Keynote at the 9th World Biomaterials Congress

World Biomaterials Congress in Chengdu, ChinaIn early June, I was honored to give a keynote address at the World Biomaterials Congress in Chengdu, China. During my talk, “Hierarchical Nanostructures for Tissue Regeneration,” I highlighted the elegant work done by the Institute for Regenerative Engineering, including my students and fellows. The symposium, Hierarchical 3-Dimensional Structures for Tissue Regeneration, was chaired by my former graduate student, Professor Justin Brown from the Department of Bioengineering, Pennsylvania State University. In addition, Dr. Lakshmi Nair, Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar and Dr. Meng Deng, also from the Institute, gave talks during the symposium. This was my first visit to Chengdu, I was deeply impressed by its natural beauty, as well as its historical and culture treasures. I so appreciated the hospitality provided by the planners. I also want to thank Professor Xingdong Zhang, chairman of the 9th WBC organizing committee, for arranging a wonderful conference.

Congratulations to Ami and Ashley Amini, the Institute for Regenerative Engineering’s Combined D.M.D./Ph.D. Students!

Ami and Ashley Amini

In June, they successfully defended their Ph.D. theses and completed their Ph.D. work. Not only did they produce outstanding research work in our institute resulting in papers published in several prestigious journals, they each competed for and received highly selective NIH individual grants for their training. Ami and Ashley are now focused on their D.M.D. program. I am very proud of Ami and Ashley and applaud their achievements.

National M.D./Ph.D. Student Conference

Shaun McLaughlinThis past weekend, Shaun McLaughlin, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the Institute for Regenerative Engineering working under my supervision attended the national M.D./Ph.D. student conference in Keystone, Colorado. Each year, the University of Colorado Medical Scientist Training Program sponsors and coordinates this event. The conference provides an opportunity for M.D./Ph.D. students around the country to present their work and interact with other students and prominent scientific investigators. This meeting has taken place since 1986 and currently over 225 students, faculty, and alumni from over 60 academic institutions in the United States and Canada attends annually.

Francis Collins, M.D.,Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was one of the keynote speakers at this year’s event, presenting a talk entitled: “Exceptional Opportunities in Biomedical Research.” Shaun gave his presentation entitled “Novel Aligned Electrospun Biphasic Scaffolds for Skeletal Muscle Regenerative Engineering,” being one of three bioengineering presentations at this year’s conference. It should be noted that Shaun’s research work is remarkable and I am so proud to have Shaun as my student in the Institute for Regenerative Engineering. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for his cutting edge research.

Shaun McLaughlin and Dr. Francis Collins
Shaun McLaughlin and Dr. Francis Collins

Institute for Regenerative Engineering Receives Another NIH Research Award

I am very happy to report that we just received research award for our recent NIH/R21 exploratory/developmental research grant application to develop next generation bone grafts. The innovation of the proposal is the use of calcium peroxide combined with polymeric matrices for engineering bone tissue. The co-investigators team includes Dr. Yusuf Khan and Dr. Kevin Lo from the Institute for Regenerative Engineering. Also, I would like to highlight my outstanding fellow, Dr. Bret D. Ulery, for his tireless effort putting together this grant application. I also thank NIH for their long-term support on our research program at the institute.

The Hartford Public School’s 21st Annual Citywide Science Fair: Keynote Speech

In late May, I had the privilege to give a talk entitled “Moving Forward with Science” to future scientists from kindergarten to high school at the Connecticut Science Center. This year, student science projects from 31 Hartford city schools participated and the science fair was held at Annie Fisher School in Hartford, CT. The best science projects, as determined by more than 100 judges including five volunteers from the Institute for Regenerative Engineering, were honored at a special awards ceremony at the Connecticut Science Center.

One of my career missions is to ensure that young people in our community have mentors and to encourage them to pursue medicine and science for their careers. Our Institute at UConn provides high school students and college students with research opportunities in our biomedical science laboratories. Each summer, we recruit students who are interested in medicine, dental medicine or biomedical research to participate in our research program. Through extensive training, students acquire knowledge on how science is conducted and where science is heading in the future. As a mentor for many of these young people, it is a real pleasure for me to see them grow to become scientists or physicians one day.

Featured Fellow at the Institute for Regenerative Engineering: Dr. Meng Deng

Biomaterials CongressDr. Meng DengDr. Meng Deng received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 2004 from the very prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2010 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He completed his doctoral thesis in biomaterials and tissue engineering under my mentorship at the University of Virginia. His Ph.D. project was focused on the design and development of novel biomaterials and matrices for bone regeneration based on a highly versatile platform of biocompatible polyphosphazene blends. He also worked on developing mechanically competent bioresorbable nanostructured three-dimensional biomimetic scaffolds for accelerated bone healing. Meng was an extraordinary Ph.D. Student and received He was the recipient of the Special Recognition Award for Academic Achievement from the Department of Chemical Engineering, and the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for the Department of Chemical Engineering from the University of Virginia. In 2008, the People’s Republic China awarded Dr. Deng the China Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad. After completing his Ph.D. in 2010 he has been a Postdoctoral Fellow working on regenerative engineering of complex musculoskeletal tissues using integrated graft systems under my guidance in the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at the University of Connecticut Health Center. His research interests include biomaterials, drug delivery, nanotechnology, and regenerative engineering.

Dr. Meng Deng and Dr. Cato LaurencinDr. Deng is an outstanding researcher in the institute. He has published more than 20 research articles in high impact journals like Biomaterials, Advanced Functional Materials, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His research work has been highlighted on journal covers several times. He was also recognized for his research work. For instance, in 2010, he received STAR award from the Society for Biomaterials in Seattle, WA. Last month, he won a Young Scientist Award from the World Biomaterials Congress 2012 and traveled to Chengdu China to receive this great honor. As a mentor for Dr. Deng, I am so proud when I see he is being recognized for his great achievements.

Honored to Work with the Wellcome Trust

Professor Maria Marlow of the Department of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham with Dr. Cato LaurencinLast month, I had the honor to be asked to travel to London as part of an international review panel for the Wellcome Trust. The Trust is a worldwide charitable organization dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It was great to be able to see the extraordinary research being performed by scientists in the UK.

During the meeting, I was reunited with Professor Maria Marlow of the Department of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham. Maria was one of my first postdoctoral fellows, joining my research group soon after we formed it at M.I.T. in the early 1990s. It is always a great pleasure to see my fellows who are now noted professors in academia all over the world.