WORCESTER, Mass.– CellThera, a biotechnology company located in Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park, has received a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to extend its research program in tissue regeneration. Under the terms of the contract, CellThera, which is part of WPI's Bioengineering Institute (BEI), and the university will continue their joint efforts aimed at restoring tissues damaged or lost due to traumatic injury.
"We are very pleased to be moving into the next phase of this work," said Raymond Page, PhD, research assistant professor in BEI and WPI's Department of Biology and Biotechnology, who serves as the principal investigator for WPI's portion of the program. "The collaboration between WPI and CellThera continues to grow and show progress. We look forward to tackling the challenges ahead."
DARPA, which serves as the research and development wing of the U.S. Defense Department, awarded CellThera a one-year $570,000 contract, with an option to extend for a second year, to fund studies aimed at regenerating mammalian muscle tissue. CellThera, in turn, subcontracted with WPI for certain elements of the research. This joint research model was established in 2006, when DARPA funded the first phase of the tissue regeneration program. In that initial phase of the research, the CellThera/WPI team, working in conjunction with colleagues at Tulane University, succeeded in reprogramming mouse and human skin cells to act more like stem cells, able to form the early structures needed to begin the process of re-growing lost tissues.
In the new phase of the program, the CellThera/WPI team will try to reprogram and engineer cells to replace damaged skeletal muscle and to restore the normal function of that muscle. Joining the effort for the new phase of this work will be George Pins, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, who has pioneered novel cell-delivery strategies that will be useful for the project. The new phase also involves collaboration with the clinical research team led by Raymond Dunn, MD, professor of surgery and cell biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
"This new award not only validates the important work CellThera and WPI are doing in the area of regenerative medicine, but by bringing together basic science, engineering and the clinical expertise of UMass, along with the commercial strength in the Worcester region, this work will help push the science closer to the clinic and closer to helping people recover from devastating injuries," said Eric W. Overström, PhD, professor and head of WPI's Department of Biology and Biotechnology.
The long-range goal of the DARPA program is to find ways to harness the body's natural regenerative abilities to heal wounds that involve bone, muscle, nerves, and soft tissue. The impetus for the program is to develop new therapies for soldiers who return home from war with major injuries. If successful, however, the science will have a broad range of civilian applications, as well. "Translating basic science advances into products and technologies that can improve people's lives is BEI's core mission,' said BEI Director W. Grant McGimpsey, PhD. "So it’s exciting to see the talented teams at CellThera, WPI and UMass Medical School working together seamlessly to advance this program."
CellThera is an early-stage biotechnology company focused on inducing somatic cells to revert to multi-potent states to facilitate wound-healing and tissue regeneration. The company was founded by Tanja Dominko, PhD, DVM, now an associate professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI.
About UMass Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $193 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts.