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At Greenville Hospital System, Clemson students and faculty work side-by-side with surgeons to create novel devices and improve those already in use; in Tanzania, infants are the patients and nurses, doctors, and parents describe problems to student researchers. When summer comes, undergraduate researchers may choose to work in a bioengineering research lab in Tokyo or Singapore. On Clemson’s main campus and at Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus in Greenville, students work with state-of-the-art equipment. And at the CU-MUSC Program on the campus of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, students have the advantage of being mentored by Clemson Faculty while working with physicians to solve problems of immediate concern.

Research News

Dr. Agneta Simionescu, Ph.D.

Dr. Agneta Simionescu’s primary research interests address the regeneration of cardiovascular structures affected by diabetes and high blood pressure. To build strategies applied to cardiovascular regeneration, it is critical to understand the cellular mechanisms involved in tissue development and repair. Simionescu’s long-term goal is to develop tissue-engineered structures resistant to the anticipated deterioration initiated by the harsh diabetic and hypertensive milieu. In her lab, she develops compact 3D scaffolds capable of directing adult stem cell differentiation into cardiovascular cells; biochemical and physical stimuli are delivered using bioreactors built for each of these specific cardiovascular structures. According to Dr. Simionescu, “Ultimately, my research aims to translate tissue-engineering solutions from the lab to the patients affected by cardiovascular diseases accelerated in diabetes. Therefore, my collaborators—surgeons, cardiologists, and endocrinologists—are essential to my work.” Graduate and undergraduate students are involved in cardiovascular projects in the Simionescu lab, such as blood vessel, mitral valve, and cardiac muscle tissue engineering. “I’m particularly proud of these students, not only because of their dedication and good work, but also because, with their enthusiasm, they contribute to the positive atmosphere and creative thinking that we all enjoy and need in our research labs.”

Dr. Naren Vyavahare, Ph.D.

Dr. Naren Vyavahare’s area of research has always been cardiovascular diseases and treatments. Improving durability and function of medical devices are his passion, and he has devoted his research primarily to making better heart valve implants. Early in Vyavahare’s career, elastin protein (often referred to as a tissue rubber band) in the tissue became his focus of attention. According to him elastin, present in the extracellular matrix, provides elastic recoil to arteries, lungs, and skin, but under inflammatory conditions like atherosclerosis, aneurysms, or COPD, it can degrade and cause calcification and tissue dysfunction. In adult life, human cells cannot regenerate elastin. Vyavahare continued, “Thus my focus has been to prevent degradation of this important protein and to prevent disease progression. We use site-specific nanoparticle-based therapies to deliver active agents to suppress elastin degradation and allow cells to regenerate elastin. We could reverse many diseases if we could target pharmaceutics to the area of elastin damage. Of the work our lab has produced, I feel particular satisfaction about finding a way to deliver drugs to degraded elastin in tissues. This new nanoparticle delivery would allow us to treat diseases by injection therapy of nanoparticles. Nanoparticles will be a kind of nanorobot that would float in your blood, find the way to reach the diseased site and deliver the pharmaceutical compound. These minimally invasive treatments would change health care.” Vyavahare described what drives his research, “Cardiovascular and lung diseases are the number one cause of mortality and morbidity in the US and abroad. There are very few treatments that can reverse these diseases at this time. If we can envision reversing already developed disease, we can save thousands of lives.”

Dr. Tong Ye, Ph.D.

Dr. Tong Ye, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Clemson University, has a joint appointment and lab in the Department of Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Ye studies biophotonics, particularly development of optical techniques such as high-resolution and super-resolution optical microscopy, for biomedical research and clinical applications. According to Ye, light-based imaging provides unique ability to perform quantitative study on biological and disease processes at the molecular and cellular levels and in physiological conditions. His lab is especially interested in creating high spatiotemporal resolution 3D imaging tools to assess morphology and function of cells and tissue. In addition to microscopy, Ye’s lab develops microendoscopy probes that support optical investigation in vivo. Such a probe could, for example, allow a cell and its inner structures to be seen as it functions within its native tissue. “There is a vast difference,” he said, “in the morphology and behavior of a cell in situ and a cell that has been grown in isolation. Furthermore, our work is multidisciplinary—biomedical investigation is used to define a problem, and study of physics and engineering is necessary to create the tools to solve the problem.” Ye greatly enjoys working with his students to resolve all kinds of technical difficulties. He said, “Optical experiments are like putting Lego pieces together. We do cool stuff in the lab: We train the next generation of intellectuals.”