I was proud to be one of five who received the 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, which recognizes achievement and service that reflects the great civil rights leader’s ideals. The awards dinner and breakfast, held on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week, was uplifting. Each year, candidates for the leadership awards are nominated by their colleagues. Simply to have been nominated was an honor, but to have been nominated by Robert Langer, an internationally renowned engineer and my mentor, was doubly so. I am grateful to Dr. Langer, the MLK Jr. Planning Committee, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for this award.
In late January, I had the opportunity to participate in the Biomedical Engineering Distinguished Seminar Series at UC Davis. It was an honor to give a lecture at an institution with such outstanding faculty and staff, as well as interesting students. My lecture was entitled “Regenerative Engineering of Hard and Soft Musculoskeletal Tissues.” I thank UC Davis and Professor Kyriacos Athanasiou, Chairman of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, in particular, for inviting me to visit this great institution. I look forward to working with my colleagues at UC Davis in the future.
I recently had the privilege of being an invited speaker at the 11th U.S.-Japan Symposium on Drug Delivery Systems Conference in Maui. The symposium was co-sponsored by the Japanese Society of Drug Delivery Systems, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Kyoto University and offered a unique opportunity for interaction among attendees from academia and industry between Japan and the United States My talk was entitled “Regenerative engineering: Drug delivery of effector molecules” and highlighted the work at the Institute for Regenerative Engineering including research by Dr. Lakshmi Nair and Dr. Kevin Wai Hong Lo.
I so appreciated the hospitality provided by the organizers. I want to thank Professor Robert Langer, my mentor, for co-organizing such a fine meeting.
The Cobb Institute, founded by the National Medical Association (NMA) is focused on the elimination of disparities in health and healthcare that disproportionately affect African Americans. Disparities in health among, racial and ethnic groups in the US are significant and, by many measures, continue to increase.
The institute is named for William Montague Cobb, who dedicated his life to turning prejudice into pluralism. The first black physical anthropologist to earn a Ph.D. and the only one until the Korean War, Dr. Cobb’s work focused on the consequences of segregation and racism, and he used his work to confront these issues. Dr. Cobb served as president of the National Medical Association from 1964-65. In 1976, he became president of the NAACP, a post he held until 1982.
As a physician-scientist involved in research on health disparities and its affect on health status in this country, I am acutely aware of the need for community education and outreach. Bringing effective health care to the underrepresented populations of this country is my mission inf serving as the Chair of the Board for the W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Institute.
Thanks to the leadership of the W. Montague Cobb/National Medical Association (COBB) Health Institute, especially Dr. Randall Morgan our Executive Direcotr, and thanks to the leadership of the National Medical Association for helping to make Dr. Cobb’s dream a reality.
On Monday, we will commemorate the 83rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth. Reflecting on his legacy, I recall 2 speeches I gave in 2011. On 2 vastly different subjects, they shared the commonality of challenge. At the National Institutes of Health, I was fortunate to be asked to provide last year’s NIH National Day of Remembrance Speech in honor of Dr. King. In the 1960s, he challenged the status quo, fighting for racial justice and an end to racially based disparities. Even now, 43 years after his death, Martin Luther King continues challenging us to carry on that battle.
Last June, I spoke at the 25th anniversary celebration of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). The theme was “Meeting the Grand Challenges.” I talked about the scientific work the Institute for Regenerative Engineering is doing here at UConn, work with the potential to revolutionize the field. Mainly, though, I talked about the people doing that work. We have been very, very blessed here at the Institute. We have brought together a wonderful group of scientists of diverse backgrounds—all good people—with protean interests that work together.
I constantly think of Dr. King’s challenge: “What are you doing for others?” It is my hope that all of us keep that in mind as we face the challenges ahead in science, in medicine, and, most importantly, in our lives as members of our local and global communities.
Keshia Ashe is one of my graduate students pursuing her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. Our paths crossed at the University of Virginia where she received her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering under the guidance of my former student, Dr. Edward Botchwey. I was really honored when she decided to move to Connecticut with me after finishing her undergraduate degree. Since joining my lab, she has explored her interests in bone and ligament regenerative engineering, controlled drug delivery, novel biodegradable biomaterials, nanotechnology, and biochemistry. In her four years as a graduate student, she has successfully published a book chapter on integrin-mediated cell adhesion, co-authored four highly cited publications in the new field of osteoinductive synthetic small molecules for bone regenerative engineering, and has begun to investigate the use of small molecules for ligament repair and regeneration. Specifically, Keshia’s research interests include:
1. Investigating the signaling pathways involved in collagen production and degradation during anterior cruciate ligament repair.
2. Synthesis and characterization of the novel inorganic-organic polyphophazene polymer.
3. Development and evaluation of small molecule releasing nanofibrous matrices for enhanced anterior cruciate ligament regeneration.
In addition to her research activities, she actively contributes to the development of her colleagues and underserved youth population as the vice president of the Controlled Release Society (CRS) and as a mentor to 20 high school students within the UConn Health Career Opportunity Programs (HCOP). Furthermore, she recently started a non-profit organization, ManyMentors, which uses online video conferencing to connect women and minority high school students with college students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. It has been a pleasure advising Keshia through her many research endeavors and serving as a role model for her youth-focused activities. I anticipate nothing but the best as she continues to make an impact on not only academia, but also on the social climate of STEM.
Last June, I was invited to speak at the 25th anniversary celebration of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). My talk, entitled “Meeting the Grand Challenges: Bold Ideas; Bold, Smart People; Organizations that Believe,” was based on my firm belief that we need those three things to successfully tackle challenges in medicine. Other keynote speakers included Professor Helen Lu, my former fellow at Drexel who is Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University. I thank NIAMS for providing ongoing financial support for our research and for having the courage to believe in bold ideas. My talk was recently placed online. Please visit Meeting the Grand Challenges. I welcome your comments. Thank you.
Recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center Program reviewed our grant p re-proposal and invited us to develop a full application. It was particularly exciting for us because we scored in the top 10% of all submissions.
If the NSF approves our application, a unique center, focused on a regenerative engineering approach to complex tissue and organ regeneration, will be established with a base here at UConn. The proposed studies will assist in designing strategies to transition from individual tissues to complex organ regeneration. This program will focus on the integration of stem cell technology, regenerative biology, and Biomaterials science. Having a dedicated center will bring basic science, engineering, and medicine together under one umbrella. Our hope is that we will develop practical strategies which will ultimately lead to whole limb regeneration.
Congratulations to all the investigators who are participating in this proposal!
Dr. Lo is a fellow who’s been in my team since 2008. He was born in Hong Kong and received his Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Dr. Lo’s research interests include musculoskeletal tissue engineering, drug delivery, regenerative medicine, biomaterials, biochemistry, and cell molecular biology. Dr. Lo has been an outstanding fellow and it’s been great to have the opportunity to mentor him. His research contributions are reflected in his nineteen papers published in high-impact journals which have been highly cited by other investigators. Dr. Lo submitted several grant applications to funding agencies and two of the applications were recently funded. Dr. Lo also serves as an independent reviewer for a number of international peer-review journals.
Specific areas of Dr. Lo’s interest include:
1. Develop bone-inducing small molecules for bone regenerative engineering.
2. Develop targeted drug delivery system for osteoporosis.
3. Evaluate the therapeutic potential of using molecular motors as nano-scale motor vehicles to deliver drugs and/or genes intracellularly.
4. Investigate the signaling pathway mechanism underlying bone regeneration in cells and tissues.
We are nearing the end of a very successful year for students, fellows, and faculty at the Institute for Regenerative Engineering. I thank everyone for their hard work and enthusiasm. Please enjoy a happy and safe holiday season. I wish you and yours all the best in 2012.
With warm regards,
Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.
Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Professor of Chemical, Materials and Biomolecular Engineering
Chief Executive Officer
Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science
Director, Institute for Regenerative Engineering
University of Connecticut