DATE: April 23, 2007
Xuejun Wen, 843) 792-5875 (office), (843) 792-5832 (lab)
Susan Polowczuk, (864) 656-2063
Clemson bioengineer gets national boost for spinal cord regeneration research
CLEMSON — A Clemson University researcher will use a $1.6-million grant to pursue an innovative way to ease the disability and pain experienced by 200,000 Americans.
Clemson bioengineer Xuejun Wen is seeking ways to repair spinal cord nerves. Each year, 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries or other central nervous system (CNS) disabilities that can be permanent and paralyzing. Current treatments fall short of sparking a robust regenerative process that leads to a decent degree of functional recovery.
Assistant professor Xuejun Wen wants to change that situation. He will use his five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) for research in tissue engineering aimed at spinal cord regeneration.
“We’ve observed the promise of tissue regenerating itself,” said Wen. “This has potential for use in repairing acute and chronic damage, such as in spinal cord injuries or in diseases such as Parkinson’s.”
Wen proposes to awaken the ability of spinal cord nerve bundles to regenerate through a controlled environment created by an implantable bridging device. By mimicking the spinal cord, using biomaterials and scaffolds along with therapeutic agents loaded in nanostructured biomaterials, scar formation at the lesion site will be inhibited and nerve bundle growth will be promoted.
Wen is a faculty member in the Clemson bioengineering department and works in Charleston in the Clemson University-Medical University of South Carolina (CU-MUSC) bioengineering program. Previously, he has looked at ways to manipulate the microenvironment of the brain to improve the long-term life of transplanted healthy, human dopamine-producing neurons to treat Parkinson’s disease. His past research has led to international recognition and funding from such organizations as the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Wen’s work as a prolific inventor has generated commercial interest.
“Dr. Wen’s research couples the possibility of improving lives with significant commercial potential,” said Matt Gevaert, who handles the commercialization of Clemson’s biomedical sciences and biotechnology intellectual property.
“We are always looking at opportunities to commercialize our technology and transition it from the laboratory into the operating room. The technology transfer process includes companies willing to step forward to develop procedures and to manufacture and sell associated medical devices.”
Bioengineering, sometimes termed biomedical engineering, involves the application of science, mathematics and engineering principles to biomedical systems. A key goal of bioengineers is to develop devices, processes and biotechnologies to improve medical practice and healthcare delivery.
Clemson’s bioengineering program began in 1963 with a Ph.D. program. A master’s degree program was added in 1966 and an undergraduate program was added in 2006. Clemson has formed a strategic partnership with MUSC, the University of South Carolina and the Greenville Hospital System in recent years.