In a lab at Clemson University, scientists are researching how to grow human tissues they hope will one day become treatments for a variety of conditions that plague humankind.
One studies a jar of heart tissue, while others are hunkered over their microscopes and transferring liquids.
An $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday -- the largest NIH grant in the school’s history -- will help grow that research.
The project also is expected to help foster the state’s medical technology industry, officials say.
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And CUBEInc -- the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Campus at Greenville Health System’s Patewood Medical Campus -- will be where much of the work is conducted.
“The high-impact medical technology they are developing could lead to therapies and cures that help patients around the world,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science.
“And having the research in Greenville means that it could help create high-paying jobs here in South Carolina.”
The money will be used to expand a center where scientists engineer human cells that may one day become organs used in transplants -- a field known as regenerative medicine, officials said.
And it brings the total from NIH for the South Carolina Bioengineering Center of Regeneration and Formation of Tissues, or SC BioCRAFT, to $20.3 million to date.
“This is seed money,” said Naren Vyavahare, SC BioCRAFT director and Hunter Endowed Chair of Bioengineering. “The whole idea behind the center is to fund and mentor junior faculty and make them successful.”
John Ballato, Clemson’s vice president for economic development, called the grant a “game-changer.”
“That level of funding allows us to attract and retain the kind of talent the state needs to grow its portfolio of med-tech businesses,” he said. “Jobs in the field start at $60,000 to $80,000.”
And Clemson President James P. Clements said the grant shows the school is on the right track.
“The NIH has invested more than $20 million in Clemson’s program since 2009,” he said. “This level of funding is a great vote of confidence in our bioengineering faculty and their research.”
The funds will support state-of-the-art facilities as well as five junior faculty researchers, Vyavahare said.
“This is a unique program to help early career investigators to establish their research program quickly with the support of expert mentors and free access to world-class core facilities,” he said.
Dr. Eugene Langan and Dr. Thomas Pace of GHS are among the mentors.
“We can help faculty stay focused on critical, real-world health care needs and improving patient care,” Langan said. “As physicians, we treat patients daily, allowing us a front-row view of what’s needed in the field.”
The researchers also will work with Dr. Roger Markwald, Dr. Thomas Borg and Dr. Mark Kindy of the Medical University of South Carolina.
“Collaboration is key,” Markwald said. “We can accomplish more together than we can separately.”
This is Clemson’s second grant through NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program, officials said. The first provided $9.3 million to start the center. But the hope is the center will eventually elicit funding from other sources and be self-sustaining, Vyavahare said.
Clemson has been researching bioengineering for more than half a century, making it “one of the world’s oldest and most experienced bioengineering departments,” officials said.
“It is gratifying that the NIH has recognized Clemson’s strength in bioengineering research,” said Larry Dooley, interim vice president for research.
“It will be exciting to see what comes next.”