Today's News

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Kappa Delta Young Investigator recipient researches gene therapy, tissue engineering

By Jeannie Glickson

Kappa Delta's 2004 Young Investigator Award was presented yesterday to Johnny Huard, PhD, for his work on gene therapy and tissue engineering. For many years, Dr. Huard has focused his research on gene therapy for skeletal muscle and has earned international respect for his development of novel approaches using tissue engineering to improve the healing of various musculoskeletal tissues.

Dr. Huard is the Henry J. Mankin associate professor in the departments of orthopaedic surgery and molecular genetics and biochemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, director of the Growth and Development Laboratory at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, deputy director of the Cellular Therapeutics Research Pillar at the McGown Institute for Regenerative Medicine and associate director of the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative. His winning paper focused on "Gene therapy and tissue engineering based on muscle-derived stem cells and the potential for musculoskeletal tissue regeneration and repair."

Dr. Huard's team of scientists isolated a novel population of muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) that display enhanced regenerative capabilities due to their multipotency, self-renewing ability and immune-privileged behavior. His paper presented evidence supporting the existence of MDSCs and reviewed current MDSC-based gene therapy and tissue-engineering applications for improving the healing of various musculoskeletal tissues, including skeletal muscle, bone and intra-articular tissues.

Tissue engineering is the science of creating living tissue to replace, repair or augment diseased tissue. Growth factors are soluble proteins that promote cell division, maturation and differentiation. Recombinant DNA techniques have increased understanding of the function of these proteins, which influence tissue regeneration and repair processes

Because most growth factor proteins are rapidly cleared by the bloodstream, researchers have turned to regional gene therapy as a method of delivering the growth factor to a local site. "Muscle cells have emerged as promising vehicles for gene therapy and tissue engineering in the musculoskeletal system," reported Dr. Huard, for five reasons:

Dr. Huard recently discovered a novel population of muscle-derived stem cells, obtained from adult muscle, that represent a potential new cell source for use in gene therapy and tissue applications for a variety of tissues. In his research, Dr. Huard is currently investigating the autologous transplantation of genetically engineered MDSCs to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His team is also researching biological approaches to improving muscle healing after common sports-related injuries, to improving fracture treatment and to developing bone substitutes. In addition, they have explored the use of MDSCs for repairing articular defects, meniscal injuries, and ligament injuries.

"Bringing tissue engineering technology to clinical fruition," wrote Dr. Huard, "will require multidisciplinary collaboration to identify and optimize the appropriate cell type, growth factor and scaffold construct for each application. Much work remains before the regeneration of tissue for healing the musculoskeletal system-a complicated endeavor with vast potential applicability-becomes a clinical reality."

  Johnny Huard, PhD

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Last modified 19/February/2004