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Lonnie Shea Wins 2015 Clemson Award

Lonnie SheaEach year, the Society For Biomaterials solicits nominations for outstanding work in the Clemson Award categories. The history of these awards reflects the strong traditional ties between the Society For Biomatierals and Clemson University since 1974.

Lonnie Shea, The William and Valerie Hall Chair and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is the recipient of the 2015 Clemson Award for Contributions to the Literature for his significant contributions to the literature on the science and technology of biomaterials.

“Dr. Shea has a tremendous publication record for his career stage, and he publishes important papers. Dr. Shea has been actively involved in educational and service activities at many levels, and has made major contributions to the biomaterials field through these activities,” stated colleague David Mooney.

Dr. Shea has published over 168 papers in peer-review journals, and 11 book chapters in the biomaterials and tissue engineering fields. Dr. Shea’s awards and honors include the NSF New Century Scholar, NSF Career Award, and election as a Fellow to AIMBE in 2010.

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April 14th, 2015 by Brandon Baier

Brittle bone disease: Drug research in mice offers hope

Contact: Gabe Cherry, 734-647-7085,

ANN ARBOR – New research in mice offers evidence that a drug being developed to treat osteoporosis may also be useful for treating osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease, a rare but potentially debilitating bone disorder that that is present from birth.

Previous studies have shown the drug to be effective at spurring new bone growth in mice and in humans with osteoporosis, and a University of Michigan research team believes that it may spur new growth in brittle bone disease patients as well. This would be a significant improvement over current treatments, which can only reduce the loss of existing bone.

The new drug is an antibody to a protein called sclerostin, which normally signals the body to stop producing new bone. Previous studies have shown that inhibiting sclerostin through antibody therapy is effective at increasing bone formation and strength.

The new U-M study focused on the effects of the antibody in very young and very old mice with genetic features that mimic brittle bone disease. Researchers were particularly interested in studying the effects of the drug on young mice, which are still growing new bone and have much lower levels of sclerostin.

“The dynamics of bone growth in young mice and in children are very different from those in adults,” explains Ken Kozloff, a U-M associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and biomedical engineering. “Their bone structures are still forming, so it’s important to understand how inhibiting sclerostin may affect that. We were also concerned that the benefits of the drug would reverse themselves after treatment stopped.”

The results of the study were encouraging, with no reduction in mid-shaft bone strength or mass in young mice six weeks after treatment stopped. While there was some loss in newly formed spongy bone, the researchers found that this could be remedied by using the sclerostin antibody in combination with other therapies.

Osteogenesis imperfecta is a genetic disease that affects an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people in the United States, about 1 in 20,000 live births. It reduces the body’s ability to form new bone and weakens the bone that does form. This leads to bones that fracture easily in everyday activities, causing a cycle of repeated fractures and hospitalizations. There is no cure and current treatment options are limited. They include the use of bisphosphonate drugs to reduce the weakening of bone and the surgical implantation of steel rods in the bones to improve their strength.

“I envision a treatment that uses a precise combination of sclerostin antibodies to grow new bone, followed by bisphosphonates to lock in that bone growth. The rodent studies we’re doing right now are giving us a better understanding of how to optimize the timing and amounts of the two drugs,” said Michelle Caird, an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the U-M medical school who specializes in brittle bone disease. “We have years of hard work ahead of us, but I think this could really improve quality of life for kids with this disease.”

The research team still has an estimated two years of rodent studies to complete. They’re hopeful that patients may have a new treatment option within the next five to six years. Amgen, the manufacturer of the drug and the provider of the drugs used in the U-M study, is currently testing the drug on osteoporosis patients. Caird says the data gained from that testing may help a new treatment for brittle bone disease get through the testing and approval process more quickly. The team is also working on new study methods that may enable them to test the new drug in the lab on small samples of bone cells taken from patients.

“There are always special concerns about using drugs on young patients,” she said. “How will it affect long-term bone growth? Are there concerns about girls and childbearing? These are all questions that need to be addressed, but we’re optimistic.”

Researchers believe that the therapy may also be useful for treating children who suffer from disuse osteopenia, a bone disorder that can result when bones don’t bear normal amounts of weight. This is common among children who use wheelchairs as a result of diseases like cerebral palsy and spina bifida.

“Disuse osteopenia is the same disease that astronauts get when they’re in microgravity environments for long periods of time,” Caird said. “It affects many more children than brittle bone disease, so we’re very hopeful that sclerostin antibody therapy will be a useful treatment for them as well. But we’re focusing on brittle bone disease first because it’s particularly debilitating and because there are so few other options for those kids.”

An abstract titled “Single Dose of Bisphosphonate Preserves Long-term Gains in Bone Mass Following Cessation of Sclerostin Antibody in Osteogenesis Imperfecta Model” will be presented on March 31 at the annual meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society in Las Vegas, Nevada. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Drugs for the study were provided by Amgen and UCB.

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April 1st, 2015 by Brandon Baier

“Cancer magnet” collaboration featured in Modern Healthcare

Lonnie SheaU-M BME’s William and Valerie Hall chair of biomedical engineering and professor of biomedical engineering, Lonnie Shea and his wife Dr. Jacqueline Jeruss, associate professor of surgical oncology at the U-M Medical School, were featured in an article on collaboration between doctors and engineers in Modern Healthcare. The feature focuses on their collaboration to develop a “cancer magnet” as a subdermally (under the skin) implantable device able to determine if cancer cells return following surgery or chemotherapy. The Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering created in 2012 aims to foster collaboration between doctors and engineers by linking the U-M College of Engineering and U-M Medical School through Biomedical Engineering. Read the full article titled, “Campus docs and engineers forge new path to innovation and profits” at the Modern Healthcare website.

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March 27th, 2015 by Brandon Baier

Spiky “hedgehog particles” for safer paints, fewer VOC emissions

Contact: Gabe Cherry, 734-647-7085,

ANN ARBOR – A new process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle may lead to more environmentally friendly paints and a variety of other innovations.

Made by a team of University of Michigan engineers, the “hedgehog particles” are named for their bushy appearance under the microscope. Their development is detailed in a paper published in the Jan. 29 issue of Nature.

The new process modifies oily, or “hydrophobic” particles, enabling them to disperse easily in water. It can also modify water-soluble, or “hydrophilic” particles, enabling them to dissolve in oil or other oily chemicals.

The unusual behavior of the hedgehog particles came as something of a surprise to the research team, said Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering.

“We thought we’d made a mistake,” Kotov said. “We saw these particles that are supposed to ‘hate’ water dispersing in it and we thought maybe the particles weren’t hydrophobic, or maybe there was a chemical layer that was enabling them to disperse. But we double-checked everything and found that, in fact, these particles defy the conventional chemical wisdom that we all learned in high school.”

The team found that the tiny spikes made the particles repel each other more and attract each other less. The spikes also dramatically reduce the particles’ surface area, helping them to diffuse more easily.

One of the first applications for the particles is likely to be in paints and coatings, where toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like toluene are now used to dissolve pigment. Pigments made from hedgehog particles could potentially be dissolved in non-toxic carriers like water, the researchers say.

This would result in fewer VOC emissions from paints and coatings, which the EPA estimates at over eight million tons per year in the United States alone. VOCs can cause a variety of respiratory and other ailments and also contribute to smog and climate change. Reducing their use has become a priority for the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies worldwide.

“VOC solvents are toxic, they’re flammable, they’re expensive to handle and dispose of safely,” Kotov said. “So if you can avoid using them, there’s a significant cost savings in addition to environmental benefits.”

While some low- and no-VOC coatings are already available, Kotov said hedgehog particles could provide a simpler, more versatile and less expensive way to manufacture them.

For the study, the team created hedgehog particles by growing zinc oxide spikes on polystyrene microbeads. The researchers say that a key advantage of the process is its flexibility; it can be performed on virtually any type of particle, and makers can vary the number and size of the spikes by adjusting the amount of time the particles sit in various solutions while the protrusions are growing. They can also make the spikes out of materials other than zinc oxide.

“I think one thing that’s really exciting about this is that we’re able to make such a wide variety of hedgehog particles,” said Joong Hwan Bahng, a chemical engineering doctoral student. “It’s very controllable and very versatile.”

The researchers say the process is also easily scalable, enabling hedgehog particles to be created “by the bucketful,” according to Kotov. Further down the road, Kotov envisions a variety of other applications, including better oil dispersants that could aid in the cleanup of oil spills and better ways to deliver non-water-soluble prescription medications.

“Anytime you need to dissolve an oily particle in water, there’s a potential application for hedgehog particles,” he said. “It’s really just a matter of finding the right commercial partners. We’re only just beginning to explore the uses for these particles, and I think we’re going to see a lot of applications in the future.”

Kotov is also a professor of chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering and macromolecular science and engineering. The paper is titled “Anomalous Dispersions of Hedgehog Particles” and based upon work partially supported by the Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Support has also been provided by the NSF and the US Department of Defense.

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January 29th, 2015 by Brandon Baier

2014 Engineering Graduate Symposium Winners

Several BME students earned awards at the Engineering Graduate Symposium held on November 14, 2014.

Eli Vlaisavljevich earned the Richard and Eleanor Towner Prize for Outstanding PhD Research. Eli is a PhD student in Professor Zhen Xu’s Image-Guided Ultrasound Therapy Laboratory.

In the poster presentation Sahar Rahmani earned first place in the Medicine and Translational Research (MTR) category.

The Engineering Graduate Symposium is a college-wide event focusing on graduate student research. This program is open to all College of Engineering current undergraduate and graduate students as well as prospective graduate engineering students from other institutions.

Posted in All News, Student/Post-Doc News

December 19th, 2014 by Brandon Baier

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