Biomedical Engineering Department Chair Jianyi “Jay” Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., brought his expertise to UAB to fix hearts.
His dream — and the dream of other heart experts at major research universities around the world — is creating new tissue that can replace or protect damaged muscle after a heart attack.
Zhang already took a major step toward that goal when he and colleagues protected pigs from post-heart attack heart failure. As described in his 2014 Cell Stem Cell paper, the researchers placed a mat of fibrin over the area where muscle had died and injected three types of cardiovascular cells underneath the mat. This is somewhat akin to starting new lawn by scattering grass seeds beneath a protective layer of hay. The fibrin helped some of the injected cells survive and grow, and they in turn protected the heart from further damage.
While Zhang’s colleague at the University of Paris Descartes, Philippe Menasché, M.D., Ph.D., is currently testing this approach on five patients, Zhang is launching a new effort in biomedical engineering to improve heart repair, supported by a new $3 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the NIH.
Instead of injecting individual cells and hoping they take seed, Zhang plans to robotically build and grow a mat of heart tissue made from individual cells, using a custom 3-D printer. Surgeons will then place this custom mat of living cells over the dead, infarcted tissue of the heart, somewhat akin to starting a new lawn by laying sod.
“We will make our own printer, using machinery experts, robotic experts and computer science experts,” said Zhang, who last fall became the new leader of UAB Biomedical Engineering, a joint department of the UAB School of Medicine and School of Engineering. “A robotic arm will pick up cells of various types from petri dishes and place them onto fine needles that are a few microns apart. The growing cells fuse after three to seven days, and the shape is based on the needles.”
“Then we can lift off the tissue,” Zhang said. “It is scaffold-less tissue engineering. I already have two Ph.D. students on the project.”
A unique treadmill designed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UAB and Southern Research will make its debut at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Boston May 31-June 4.
The device, ResistX, is the first product produced by the Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology (AIMTech), a partnership between Southern Research and the UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“ResistX is different from anything on the market, and represents a significant milestone for AIMTech and the physical therapy and rehab communities,” said Robert Hergenrother, Ph.D., director of AIMTech and professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
ResistX is a unique force-induced treadmill designed with safety in mind and engineered for use in physical therapy and rehabilitation centers. It is the first treadmill to allow individuals recovering from neurological or physical disorders — such as injury, stroke, or surgery — to exercise in a challenging treadmill environment to improve cardiovascular fitness and lower limb strength. Thanks to a custom algorithm, the device employs resistive forces to increase the amount of work required by an individual to move under his or her own effort, and at a comfortable pace.
Additionally, in order to guard against injury, ResistX features a protective catching mechanism and padded backstop. These features ensure that if a user loses balance, he or she will not fall or be thrown from the device.
The project was accelerated by a $164,800 grant from the Alabama Innovation Fund — a program administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce that provides funding for promising research being conducted at Alabama universities and organizations.
Life-saving Technology Installed at Historic Le Mans Race Circuit
For more than a decade, the SAFER Barrier has proved its life-saving ability at NASCAR and IndyCar circuits across the United States. This year, the device is going international.
The SAFER Barrier is making its European debut at the historic circuit in Le Mans, France, site of the world’s oldest active endurance racing event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The SAFER Barrier, which stands for Steel and Foam Energy Reduction, is the invention of Dean Sicking, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor and researcher at the UAB School of Engineering.
Sicking says the installation of his product at Le Mans is significant in that it marks the first time a racing facility has performed an independent evaluation of two competing barrier systems. Earlier renovations to the Le Mans circuit in 2014 installed TechPro barriers, a fundamentally different type of barrier system.
“We are very pleased that Le Mans is installing the SAFER Barrier, because we believe it validates what we already know; that our barrier is the best option to improve driver safety,” said Sicking.