UConn researchers hope to regrow an entire limb by 2030, officials announced at a press conference in Hartford on Wednesday.
Researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Engineering (IRE) at UConn Health announced the initiation of the Hartford Engineering A Limb (HEAL) Project, an international effort established to regenerate a human knee within the next seven years and an entire limb within 15, on Wednesday Nov. 11 at a press conference in Hartford.
Dr. Cato Laurencin, IRE Director and Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translation Science CEO, is the leading surgeon-scientist for the HEAL Project, according to a UConn Health press release.
“Over the past five years I’ve described a new field, regenerative engineering, that is geared toward answering grand challenges such as limb regeneration,” Laurencin said. “I define regenerative engineering as the convergence of advances in materials science, stem cell science, physics, developmental biology and clinical translation for the regeneration of complex tissues and organ systems. It is using principles, technologies and practices of regenerative engineering that we believe we can answer this grand challenge.”
Coinciding with Veterans Day, the project is targeted toward aiding wounded warriors and others who have lost limbs or experienced significant nerve damage. Laurencin said that the project does not focus exclusively on war veterans, but that the researchers have a great respect for those individuals and are honored to have the opportunity to develop technologies that may be able to help them.
Laurencin said he believes that he and his international research partners, including faculty from Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of California at Irvine and SASTRA University in India, can meet the grand challenge of limb regeneration, emphasizing the importance of trans-disciplinary research.
“Never in history have we had the armamentarium of engineering and science at our disposal to allow us to successfully take on such a feat,” Laurencin said. “To truly be effective, disciplines must cross-fertilize each other and regenerative engineers must become comfortable moving out of their respective areas of expertise to master new ones.”
There have been some successes in using mechanical limbs and robots, as compared to regeneration, but Laurencin said that they suffer from a number of drawbacks.
“Among other things, they are not your native tissue, and the ability to recapitulate the fine sensory and motor aspects seen in natural limbs is lacking in general with mechanical limbs,” Laurencin said.
Laurencin also said that there are medical methods available now that allow for the regeneration of limbs and joints, and that the IRE has worked to develop a number of musculoskeletal tissues, some of which are already in humans.
“A newt can regenerate a limb in six to nine weeks after amputation. We’re not newts but we can harness our newt-like tendencies to promote regeneration,” Laurencin said. “Moving to the next level requires us to think broadly, and perhaps even out of the box in bringing a number of new technologies together.”
Laurencin said that the IRE has recently launched a new journal, the Regenerative Engineering and Transitional Medicine, which will discuss new scientific work in research articles.
“What will be exciting is that this will be the first journal in the field that will include a summary of this science for an audience,” Laurencin said. “We believe this will provide a unique opportunity for non-scientists and scientists in other disciplines to engage with the new field and new grand challenges.”
Laurencin added that their lab has a number of new cutting edge projects involving drug discovery and drug delivery, the development of new polymers and polymer synthesis procedures and the development of next generation implants for bone and ligament repair and regeneration, but that the regeneration project will be their first priority and requires the most dedication.
Maggie McEvilly is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.