National Institutes of Health award Clemson $9.3 million for tissue regeneration center

October 15, 2009

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson University has received a $9.3 million, five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to establish a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for Tissue Regeneration. Faculty from the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina also will collaborate, providing expertise in medicine and developmental biology.

The center is funded by the NIH National Center for Research Resources Institutional Development Award program that seeks to broaden the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical and behavioral research. The program aims to increase the number of NIH-funded biomedical researchers in the nation and to strengthen the biomedical research capacity of individual universities. The goal is to create world-class core facilities and to provide funding and mentoring for early career investigators already in place to make them successful, independent NIH-funded investigators.

"This new Clemson COBRE will significantly improve our collaborative efforts in South Carolina to recruit, train and retain researchers with cross-disciplinary skills in the area of regenerative medicine," said Clemson University President James F. Barker. "This recognition from NIH is a great honor for Clemson University and speaks to the rich history and outstanding quality of research from our bioengineering department."

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, the aging baby boomer population will expand the elderly population 75 percent in the next two decades to over 74 million people, creating a tremendous biomedical need. South Carolina already is home to a growing medical-device cluster.

"End-stage organ failure and tissue loss create health care costs of nearly $400 billion annually in the United States," said Naren Vyavahare, Hunter Endowed Chair, professor of bioengineering and chief architect of the proposal. Vyavahare also will act as principal investigator and the center's director. "The center's research focus will be on tissue regeneration through cell-biomaterials interactions with the goal of restoring functional tissues."

The center will provide mentors for early-career researchers who can work toward independence as NIH-funded investigators. The first group of early-career investigators include Bruce Gao and Ken Webb, associate professors of bioengineering at Clemson; Susan Lessner, assistant professor of cell biology and anatomy at USC; and Anand Ramamurthi, associate professor of bioengineering with the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program and adjunct associate professor of regenerative medicine and cell biology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Chris Przirembel, vice president for research and economic development at Clemson, said NIH's decision to fund a COBRE center shows the university's potential to contribute significantly to the body of knowledge in a critical research field strongly tied to the university's biotechnology and biomedical science emphasis area that combines research expertise with opportunity for economic growth in the state.

"It is very gratifying that the National Institutes of Health recognize Clemson's research strength in this important field. Each year, thousands of Americans and even more people worldwide suffer or lose their lives due to organ failure," said Przirembel. "The dedication of professor Vyavahare and his colleagues to alleviate suffering is inspiring to all of us. The potential exists for their discoveries to lead to the development of new products, spurring the creation of a new biomedical-related industry segment to provide additional jobs. The potential positive outcomes of this research are endless."
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Clemson University is known as the international birthplace of the field of biomaterials, providing building blocks of medical devices for knees, hips, tissue and hearts. The evolution of bioengineering in South Carolina began at Clemson with the state's first program in 1963. Today, the program offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees. As the international birthplace of the field of biomaterials, the prestigious Society of Biomaterials was founded at the university in 1974. A strategic Bioengineering Alliance -- a decades-old collaboration of Clemson, USC and MUSC and the Clemson-MUSC Joint Bioengineering Program -- have been crucial to the growth of biomedical research in South Carolina, allowing bioengineers to be closely involved with physicians and patients.

This material is based upon work supported by the NIH under Grant No. 1P20RR021949-01A2. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health.

Clemson University

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