Scientific Advisory Board Innovator

Dr Anthony AtalaDr. Anthony Atala

Anthony Atala, MD, a Stem for Life Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member, directs The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he oversees a team of scientists working to build replacement organs and tissues in the lab and develop cell therapies for more than 30 different areas of the body. Recently reported research by Atala’s team includes a project to “print” replacement tissues and organs in the lab, as well as an effort to build a muscle implant to repair muscle damage.

The project to print organs uses a 3-D printer that prints both cells and a material to hold cells together into an organ-shaped prototype. The process starts with using data from a patient’s medical scans, such as a CT, to create a computer model of the organ. The computer then guides the bioprinter as it prints the prototype layer-by-layer. While the research is still experimental, the goal is to one day print an organ structure — using a patient’s own cells — that could be implanted in the patient.

The goal of the muscle project is to help patients with muscle defects ranging from cleft lip and palate to those caused by traumatic injuries or surgery. New research shows that exercise is a key step in building a muscle-like implant in the lab with the potential to repair muscle damage. In mice, these implants successfully prompt the regeneration and repair of damaged or lost muscle tissue, resulting in significant functional improvement. The strategy is to take a small biopsy of muscle from a human patient and to place cells derived from this tissue on a strip of biocompatible material. The strip is then “exercised” in the lab until it develops into an implant that can prompt muscle regeneration and recovery. The work is still experimental, but scientists are hopeful about developing it for human patients.