Nearly 3,000 people died waiting for an organ transplant in 2022, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, and more than 100,000 people remain on the wait list. Envisioning a future without the need for donor organs, a North Carolina State University (NC State) researcher is laying the foundation to grow stem cells into replacement organ tissue.
Jessica M. Gluck, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science in the Wilson College of Textiles, NC State, studies microenvironments in the human body that can foster cell growth and activity—and they have different physical and mechanical properties, depending on where in the body they are.
Gluck’s lab is experimenting with nanofibrous materials to create scaffolding that can transfer stem cells into the body. Cells taken from an individual can be essentially reprogrammed into embryonic-like stem cells, which are pluripotent, so they can regenerate into any cell in the body. Gluck and her team alter the nanofibrous scaffolding’s properties to mimic certain microenvironments, which in turn encourages the stem cells to become a specific type of cell or grow into a specific tissue.
The basic science research occurring in Gluck’s lab will bolster future applied research focused on repairing and growing organs: Understanding the nuances of cell development will help researchers learn how to prevent disease and to create new tissue.
“We wouldn’t need donor organs or donor tissue. People wouldn’t need to worry about their bodies rejecting transplanted organs,” Gluck said. “We’re still a long way from that reality, but I think in the next 20 years, we’ll start to see this process becoming more feasible in personalized medicine.”
Gluck and her team have been experimenting with creating scaffolding that mimics microenvironments specifically in the heart and the cornea. The research involves a mix of textiles, biomedical engineering, medicine and mechanical engineering.