by Rebecca Arrington
engineers Thomas C. Skalak (seated) and Richard J. Price are
part of the team investigating the growth of blood vessels
and neural tissue and the development of blood vessels in
Researchers studying the complex
process of tissue growth
IS IT that genes tell cells what kinds of cells they are to become?
And then how do those cells get together and organize themselves
into coherent tissues?
U.Va. team jump-started with a $200,000 University seed
grant that in turn led to a $3.6 million award from the National
Institutes of Health is taking aim at understanding some
of these most basic principles of human physiology.
By Charlotte Crystal
as a New York City taxi driver reacts to constantly changing traffic-red
lights, jaywalkers, speeding cars, parked trucks the bodys
cells interact with
a jumble of genes, proteins, cells and external stimuli as they
race to create the blood vessels, nerves, tissue and organs that
make up our bodies.
international human genome project has identified the 30,000 or
so genes that control the human body, but the scientific work
of understanding what all the genes do and how they interact with
various cells is just beginning.
multidisciplinary group of researchers at the University is addressing
three related aspects of that complex challenge, thanks to a $200,000
seed grant from the Universitys Funding Excellence in Science
and Technology (FEST) program and a subsequent grant of nearly
$3.6 million from the National Institutes of Health.
research team which includes two biomedical engineers,
Thomas C. Skalak and Richard J. Price; a molecular physiologist,
Gary K. Owens; a developmental cell biologist, Douglas W. DeSimone;
and a pediatrician and expert in kidney organogenesis (growing
new kidney tissue) R. Ariel Gomez will investigate the
growth of blood vessels and neural tissue and the development
of blood vessels in the kidneys, building on research already
under way in each of the team members labs.
by Jenny Gerow
Biomedical and Medical Sciences Building on Lane Road, next
to Jordan Hall, opened last month. The new space is home to
the departments of biomedical engineering, pathology and comparative
medicine, and the Cardiovascular Research Center. The 150,000-gross-square-foot
building is a state-of-the-art space for teaching, labs and
administrative support. The cost of the project was $42 million.
particular, the researchers are studying how genes direct the
assembly of individual cells into larger systems and the various
interactions that take place along the way. Team members are exploring
different aspects of the process from the smallest elements to
the largest from genes, to cells, to tissue.
project draws on a number of cutting-edge techniques developed
in U.Va. labs, including the use of computer analysis to predict
the behavior of living systems, and the ability to watch microscopic
activity in lab animals and construct computer models to mimic
the complex processes, said Skalak, chair of the Department
of Biomedical Engineering, a program co-sponsored by the School
of Medicine and the School
of Engineering and Applied Science.
goal of this gene circuitry research is to advance the knowledge
needed to harness the bodys natural ability to prevent disease,
and eventually to grow replacement tissue for human transplantation,
are extremely grateful for the visionary investment made by President
John T. Casteen III and Provost
Gene D. Block in this project, Skalak said. U.Va.s
financial support was instrumental in helping these researchers
secure federal grants for this project and related research, representing
a return on investment of more than 3,000 percent. Our experience
confirms the wisdom of the FEST program and promises to pay tremendous
scientific dividends in improved health for all.
also believe this project will help boost the Universitys
biomedical engineering program, currently ranked 14th [by U.S.
News & World Report], into the top 10, Skalak said.
U.Va. research project has many potential applications to major
public health concerns in the United States.
example, coronary heart disease, the single largest cause of death
in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association, claims
more than 500,000 lives each year. While transplants can save
the most severely affected patients, there arent enough
hearts to go around. In 2000, the most recent year for which figures
are available, only 2,198 heart transplants were performed.
has been made through ongoing efforts to educate the public about
the importance of a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise. There
also have been recent developments in the use of mechanical hearts.
But research that suggests ways to harness the bodys capabilities
to prevent heart failure in the first place is not as far along,
according to Skalak.
is just this kind of preliminary but promising research
the FEST program was designed to encourage when Casteen announced
its creation two years ago. Founded on the recommendation of the
Virginia2020 Science and Technology Commission and funded with
an annual commitment of $1 million from the presidents office,
the programs goal is to encourage innovative, multidisciplinary
research and strengthen centers of excellence at U.Va., while
attracting major funding from outside sources.
grants, which run from $10,000 to $500,000, are awarded on the
basis of a projects potential to solve a major scientific
or technological problem, create intellectual property and have
an international impact. So far, the program has awarded 14 grants
for more than $1 million, with the next round of funding coming
up later this year.
gene circuitry project is believed to be the first to secure a
large federal grant by building on FEST funding, as envisioned
by the FEST program founders.
difficulty has been in choosing among a large number of significant
research projects submitted by a broad array of talented University
scientists, said Block, who served as vice president for
research and public service before assuming his curent post as
vice president and provost. We were glad to see that a national
funding agency shared our assessment of the significance and promise
of the multifaceted research being conducted at U.Va. We are certain
the FEST program will act as a funding springboard for other projects
in the future.