Biomedical Engineering

Marcu and Leach Receive CIRM Tools and Technology Awards

laura and kent

Associate Professor Kent Leach (left) and Professor Laura Marcu (right)

Laura Marcu and Kent Leach have each received $1.8 million Tools and Technology Awards from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. The Tools and Technologies Awards are intended to create and test novel tools and technologies, to improve existing ones, and to help resolve bottlenecks that are impairing progress for the field.

Laura Marcu, along with Leigh Griffiths (School of Veterinary Medicine) and Claus Sondergaard (School of Medicine) received the award to support the development of novel biocompatible decellularized vascular grafts. They propose to research, test and validate a tissue diagnostic technology combining optical and ultrasound imaging techniques. This platform will enable label-free, real-time, non-destructive analysis of composition, structure, function and site specific cellular repopulation of extracellular matrix of engineered vascular tissue constructs. This technology is expected to alleviate the need for destructive assays across multiple time points, which are costly and frequently impractical. This technology can improve the production of functional engineered vascular tissues in the laboratory for in-vivo implantation which can accelerate the integration time of the vascular implant with the surrounding host tissue, thus to contribute to restoring the desired quality of life to the patient.

Kent Leach, in collaboration with Laura Marcu and Kyriacos Athanasiou (Biomedical Engineering), received an award to develop a multi-modal imaging probe that uses light and sound to detect changes in engineered bone and cartilage, which reflect maturity and mechanical properties. The application of stem cells to generate individualized implantable grafts suffers from patient-to-patient variability that is unpredictable and immeasurable without destructive techniques, representing a major bottleneck in translating stem cell technologies to the clinic and delivering a quality product. Nondestructive, non- or minimally invasive methods to measure dynamic changes in tissue development will reduce the quantity of tissue collection for sufficient cell numbers and cutting costs that do not directly benefit the patient.

“This project embodies what CIRM is aiming for in this award mechanism – combining the expertise of engineers, stem cell experts, and clinicians to validate and apply novel technologies for resolving major bottlenecks in the field”, says Leach. “The successful development of this tool will provide new methods for improving the quality of engineered constructs designed to replace damaged tissues in aging or injured Californians.”

“These two awards will enable development of innovative tools for label-free optical diagnostics and ultrasound imaging of engineered tissue and create a unique research infrastructure at UC Davis for non-destructive evaluation of biomaterials used in regenerative medicine,” says Marcu.  “Such tools have the potential to accelerate research in all areas of interest to CIRM.”