Gates Institute members are producing groundbreaking results through investigations of stem cell and regenerative medicine mechanisms that can help the body heal better and faster. Various research projects are testing potential treatments that could speed tissue regeneration in debilitating skin wounds, for example, reducing the chronic inflammation suffered by diabetes patients and treating side effects from radiation and chemotherapy.
Kenneth Liechty, MD, is a pediatric and fetal surgeon whose research has been focused primarily in the field of wound healing and regenerative medicine. His projects are aimed at elucidating the mechanisms involved in the regenerative response to injury in the fetus, the role of stem cells in tissue repair, and the correction of abnormal healing in the adult. His team has contributed significantly to the understanding of regenerative healing in the skin, heart, lung, and tendon, as well as the correction of impaired healing in diabetics.
Liechty is professor of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, co-director of the Colorado Fetal Care Center, director of Pediatric Surgery Basic and Translational Research, and the Sandy Wolf Chair in Maternal Fetal Surgery.
Liechty’s research team has pioneered the role of dysregulation of microRNAs in diabetic wound healing impairment, and the mechanisms of stem cell and gene therapy in the correction of this impairment. He and his team are developing novel treatment paradigms using stem cells and gene therapy strategies to promote healing and tissue regeneration in multiple tissues by modulating the inflammatory response, angiogenesis, the composition of the extracellular matrix, and the progenitor cell content. The goal of this regenerative medicine approach is to restore normal tissue architecture and function and to prevent the complications of impaired healing or scar formation following injury.
Liechty’s support from the Gates Institute includes awards from the Gates Grubstake Fund that helped validate results of their work in mice and pig diabetic wounds and following acute lung injury. With assistance from CU Innovations and the Startup Toolbox, Liechty’s team is moving toward investigatory drug approvals and clinical trials. The Gates Biomanufacturing Facility is also a key part of future progress, Liechty has said.
“The GBF stands alone in the West,” he said. “It’s the whole package. It’s one thing to say, ‘Okay, we can manufacture things,’ or, ‘We have people who know the ins and outs, but how do you pay for it?’ There’s the valley of death from discovery to actual clinical application. It’s a high bar to get across. The Gates Center and the GBF help bridge that gap.”
Regenerative medicine also holds great promise where human tissue cannot repair itself appropriately due to illness, and thus needs a scientific breakthrough to boost repair. Another Gates Center member, Dr. Xiao-Jing Wang, MD, Ph.D., continues to be motivated by the frank evaluations of patients in cancer treatment, who cite the oral ulcers created by radiation and chemotherapy as the worst side effect of their odyssey. Patients often suffer from so many mouth ulcers that they must get nutrition through feeding tubes and take morphine for the severe pain. There is currently no FDA-approved drug to treat the ulcers in cancer patients.
Wang produced a protein showing good potential for both blocking development of the ulcers and assisting in the healing of ulcers. The protein may also be applied to wounds suffered by diabetes patients; the one FDA-approved drug for treating wounds brings high cancer risks.
Wang’s lab has received a Gates Grubstake Award to help move the protein drug development. The Gates Center also helped Wang link up with the CU Anschutz Innovations Office SPARK program assisting researchers in translation from “bench to bedside.” Wang works with the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility to create the protocols for scaling up protein production to create GMP-grade materials for eventual clinical trials.