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Phone: 832-667-5811

Regenerative medicine grows with $3 million gift to Houston Methodist

Houston, TX - 1/20/2014

A $3 million, four-year gift from the Cullen Trust for Health Care is helping Houston Methodist create the Center for Regenerative Medicine, a research initiative to develop new ways of compelling damaged cells, tissues, and organs to heal themselves.

Cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries are among the dozens of ailments likely to benefit from advances in regenerative medical technologies.

"We are excited the Cullen Trust for Health Care has decided to invest in the growth of regenerative medicine at Methodist," said the program's first director, Ennio Tasciotti, Ph.D. "Imagine a world where most victims of spinal cord injuries will walk again, or where weakened hearts can be made to grow stronger. Gifts like this one will help us advance the science to make that world our reality."

As envisioned by Tasciotti, the Center for Regenerative Medicine will emphasize three areas of research: biomimetic scaffolds and nanomaterials, programmable drug delivery systems, and stem cell and immune system plasticity. The funds will be used to hire researchers and purchase equipment and reagents.

Tasciotti is also co-chair of the Department of Nanomedicine and is the scientific director of the Surgical Advanced Technology Lab. From 2008 to 2013, a team led by Tasciotti, Houston Methodist Research Institute President & CEO Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., and Houston Methodist Chief of Spinal Surgery Bradley Weiner, M.D., worked under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to develop a putty that could help repair fractures in long skeletal bones. The ultimate goal of this ongoing research is to develop materials that improve and speed the repair of load-bearing bones -- bones particularly stressed by tissue weight.

The synthetic, non-toxic material the group developed can be implanted at the site of bone loss and help the body reconstruct the missing tissue. Designed to mimic host tissues, the molecular scaffolds are left alone by the immune system. The scaffolds do their healing work without worsening inflammation at the original wound site.

Regenerative medicine also includes therapies that help heal soft tissues, such as the endothelial cells of blood vessels or the cardiomyocytes of the heart. Research Institute President & CEO Ferrari has said regenerative medicine is one of three focus areas for Houston Methodist science.

"The field of regenerative medicine is both very young and very vibrant, and its impact could be enormous," Tasciotti said. "It is reasonable to envision regenerative medicine eventually touching every aspect of conventional clinical practice, from fetal medicine to geriatrics."

To speak with Tasciotti, please contact David Bricker, Houston Methodist, at 832-667-5811 or dmbricker@houstonmethodist.org.