Gerecht nets American Heart Association grant

Sharon Gerecht, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, has received the prestigious American Heart Association Established Investigator Award.

sharongerecht_cropThe AHA awarded only four such grants this year, funding designed to support mid-career of investigators who show unusual promise and accomplishments in the study of “cardiovascular or cerebrovascular science.”

Gerecht’s research focuses on engineering platforms, specifically hydrogels, that are designed to coax stem cells to develop into the building blocks of blood vessels. The hope is that these approaches could be used to help repair circulatory systems that have been damaged by heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.

Additionally, Gerecht leads a research project in the Johns Hopkins Physical Science-Oncology Center where she is studying the effects of low oxygen (hypoxia) on the tumor growth and blood vessel formation. The AHA funding will support her work on regulating hypoxia in hydrogels for vascular regeneration. The award is worth approximately $400,000 over five years.

Learn more about the Gerecht lab here.

For all press inquiries regarding INBT, its faculty and programs, contact INBT’s science writer Mary Spiro, mspiro@jhu.edu or 410-516-4802.

 

“Cells Performing Secret Handshake” wins grand prize

Sebastian F. Barreto, a doctoral student of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the laboratory of Sharon Gerecht, won the grand prize for his image “Cells Performing Secret Handshake” from the Regenerative Medicine Foundation. Another image that Barreto submitted received 3rd place (shown below), and a third image received honorable mention.

Late last year, RMF issued an international call for macro-photography of regenerative medicine images taken through a microscope. This inaugural contest resulted in nearly 100 images representing scientists from the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Cells-Performing-Secret-Handshakes

This image by Sebastian Barreto of Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells “performing a secret handshake” won the grand prize in the first photo contest of the Regenerative Medicine Foundation.

Barreto’s image was included in the “Art of Science: Under the Surface” exhibition that featured an opening lecture and public reception with global expert in regenerative medicine Anthony Atala, M.D. and award winning photographer, painter and sculpture, Kelly Milukas, whose talk focused on the impact of art on healing. The winning images will also be featured in a special public patron gallery exhibition component during the Regenerative Medicine Foundation annual meeting held in San Francisco, May 5-7, 2014.

In a congratulatory letter, Joan F. Schanck, the Academic Research Program Officer, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Director of Education for the Regenerative Medicine Foundation, said, “This competition will assist in developing a digital library that can be used to excite, inform and educate a broad audience.”

Barreto is affiliated with both the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and with the Physical Sciences-Oncology Center.

Captions for both photos can be found below:

Technical description for the grand prize photo: Epifluorescence image was taken at 1280 x 1024 using an Olympus BX60 microscope. Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells (HUVECs) were cultured for five days and stained for F-actin (green), Vascular Endothelial cadherin (VEcad; red), and nuclei was counter-stained with DAPI (blue).

 

Endothelial-Cells-Resisting-Smooth-Muscle-Cell-Pull

Barreto’s image of endothelial cells won 3rd place in the RMF photo contest.

 

Technical description for 3rd place photo: Epifluorescence image was taken at 1280 x 1024 using an Olympus BX60 microscope. Human Endothelial Colony Forming Cells (ECFCs) were cultured for eight days before being co-cultured with human Smooth Muscle Cells (SMCs) for four more days. ECFCs were stained with CD31 (red), SMCs with SM22 (green), and nuclei was counterstained with DAPI (blue).

 

 

 

Gerecht research featured in Baltimore Sun science section

Science journalism is coming back to The Baltimore Sun, or so it would seem. Evidence of this comes in the form of this well written article by Arthur Hirsch about work in the laboratory of Sharon Gerecht, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an affiliated faculty member of Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Photo  from The Baltimore Sun.

Photo from The Baltimore Sun.

The Gerecht lab is working on ways to coax stem cells into becoming tiny micro blood vessels, the kind crucial to feeding nutrients to new or transplanted tissue. Without these smallest branches of blood vessel, tissue cannot thrive.

Hirsch does an excellent job at not only deftly reporting Gerecht’s findings but beautifully describing what the vessels look like and the overall significance of the work. But this is not a critique of Hirsch’s writing. I am unqualified to do that. What this IS, is a tip of the hat to The Baltimore Sun for a) actually having a science story that was about the work of local scientists and b) assigning an extremely competent writer to produce the work.

I say this, because for the last 10 years or so, there seems to have been a steady decline in science reporting in by local media. The decline was in the quantity as well as in the quality. The New York Times still had their Tuesday Science Times, and a few other major dailies have managed to keep their science sections alive. But overall, there was a sharp and rapid decline in science journalist positions at smaller newspapers. Entire departments were disassembled. Bureaus shut down. Science stories, if they were written, were about “news you could use” and were relegated to newbie writers, many of who had little or no scientific understanding. Many former science reporters moved into the blogosphere or took up public relations jobs, like I did.

But the Gerecht story was about basic science, not about some new gadget that could fix this or that right now. It was about the scientific process and “eureka” moments. It gave insight into how scientists work, and even more importantly, how LONG it takes to arrive at a significant finding. (In this case, it has taken Gerecht 10 years to arrive at these findings.)

Maybe there is hope for the future of science journalism at the local level yet.

Check out The Sun story here:

Lab-grown blood vessels made with less ado

Mary Spiro is the science writer and blog maven for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. All comments can be sent to mspiro@jhu.edu.

Pluripotent stem cells hold key to blood vessel formation

Pluripotent stem cells, those cells capable of transforming into any type of tissue in the human body, hold the key to one of science’s biggest challenges: the formation of new blood vessels.

Researchers in the laboratory of Sharon Gerecht, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, have demonstrated a method that causes these powerful cells to form a fresh network of blood vessels when transplanted in mice. Shawna Williams, writer at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, reports here on this new research, which was published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can find the article here.

Shown are lab-grown human blood vessel networks (red) incorporating into and around mouse networks (green). (Gerecht Lab/PNAS)

Shown are lab-grown human blood vessel networks (red) incorporating into and around mouse networks (green). (Gerecht Lab/PNAS)

Here’s a comment from Gerecht, who is affiliated with both Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences–Oncology Center and Institute for NanoBioTechnology:

“In demonstrating the ability to rebuild a microvascular bed in a clinically relevant manner, we have made an important step toward the construction of blood vessels for therapeutic use … Our findings could yield more effective treatments for patients afflicted with burns, diabetic complications and other conditions in which vasculature function is compromised.”

The Gerecht lab, in collaboration with researchers at the School of Medicine, has been working on this puzzle for some time. One important stride in this current work is that the vessels are forming and persisting in a living animal and not just in a culture in a flask.

Says lead author and doctoral student in biomedical engineering, Sravanti Kusuma:

“That these vessels survive and function inside a living animal is a crucial step in getting them to medical application.”

You can read about some of the Gerecht lab’s previous findings in this particular pursuit in the articles listed below:

Engineers Coax Stem Cells to Diversify 

Research Seeks to Turn Stem Cells into Blood Vessels

 

Burn healing gel could soon be commercialized for veterinary use

Hope for severe burns could lie in the healing action encouraged by a colorless, odorless “hydrogel” developed by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBiotechnology affiliated researchers. The Johns Hopkins Engineering Magazine summer edition featured a story here on this work, occurring in the laboratory of chemical and biomolecular engineering associate professor, Sharon Gerecht.

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 2.20.27 PMNews of the original research was posted here on the INBT blog in December 2011. However, the pain and suffering experienced by third-degree burn sufferers is long-lasting and this work rightly deserves to be re-visited. The original study, done in conjunction with faculty in the Department of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Burn Center at Bayview Medical Center, demonstrated for the first time a treatment that could not only aid in healing but practically restore the skin in the tested animals to a healthy state. Use of the hydrogel was tested on mice, and after just a few weeks, skin had regrown to a nearly scar-free state that could even regrow hair. The team is now looking a testing the gel with pigs.

The funny thing is, is that Gerecht and company are not even sure why the hydrogel works the way it does.

The Whiting School of Engineering magazine article highlights the potential commercialization timeline for the hydrogel, that is, when will a product based on this new technology be available for humans? That is a question that folks here at INBT and those affiliated with this work have been receiving nearly once a week since this research was first published. Now, maybe we will have an answer for all those who could potentially benefit from this important and yet mysterious discovery.

Breast cancer highlighted at Homewood mini-symposium

A tumor cell breaking free and entering the blood stream. (From animation by Ella McCrea, Nathan Weiss and Martin Rietveld)

Breast cancer will be topic of at least two of the talks planned for a mini-symposium October 10 on the Homewood campus.

UPDATED: Click here for updated list of talk titles.

Students from Johns Hopkins Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (PSOC) and Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE) will hold their second mini-symposium of the year on October 10 at 9 a.m. in Hackerman Hall Auditorium. The symposia, scheduled each spring and fall on the Homewood campus, encourage an exchange of ideas between PhD students and postdoctoral fellows associated with these centers. The entire Hopkins community is invited to attend, and no RSVP is required.

Some of the talk titles include, from the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, “The Pulsing Motion of Breast Cancer Cell is Regulated by Surrounding Epithelial Cells” presented by Meng Horng Lee, a PSOC postdoctoral fellow in the Denis Wirtz lab; “Breast Tumor Extracellular Matrix Promotes Vasculogenesis” presented by Abigail Hielscher, a postdoctoral fellow in the Sharon Gerecht lab; and “Mucin 16 is a Functional Selectin Ligand on Pancreatic Cancer Cells” given by Jack Chen, a pre-doctoral fellow in the lab of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos. Additional speakers include postdoctoral fellow Pei-Hsun Wu, PhD, a from the Wirtz Lab and Koh Meng Aw Yong, a pre-doctoral student affiliated with Princeton University’s Physical Sciences-Oncology Center.

The purpose of these twice a year, student run mini-symposia is to facilitate communication among researchers working in laboratories studying the mechanistic aspects of cancer spread (i.e., those affiliated with the PSOC) and those working on novel means of using nanotechnology for cancer diagnosis or treatment (i.e., those associated with the CCNE). Anjil Giri coordinated the fall mini-symposium, a PSOC pre-doctoral fellow in the Wirtz lab , with Erbil Abaci, a PSOC pre-doctoral fellow with in the Gerecht lab. Visit the INBT website (inbt.jhu.edu) for further details, as additional speakers and talk titles will be announced.