Rice scientist recognized as pioneer in tissue engineering

Rice scientist recognized as pioneer in tissue engineering

Rice News staff

Rice University bioengineer Antonios Mikos has been awarded the prestigious Marshall R. Urist Award by the Orthopedic Research Society.

Mikos is the John W. Cox Professor in Bioengineering, professor of chemical engineering and director of the John W. Cox Laboratory for Biomedical Engineering at Rice. In addition, he also serves as director of Rice’s Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering.

The Urist Award was established in 1996 and is sponsored by Osiris Therapeutics Inc. It is given annually to one person who has established a reputation as a cutting-edge researcher in tissue regeneration. The award includes a $5,000 prize.

Mikos will receive the award at the society’s annual meeting next month in Washington.

“This prestigious award reflects the hard work of past and present undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral research associates in my group over the years,” Mikos said.

Over the past 13 years, Mikos’ laboratory has developed extensive expertise in fabricating synthetic materials with tailored chemistries for specific tissue-engineered repair of orthopedic injuries.

For example, Mikos and his associates have created several novel materials based on fumaric acid, a natural product found in mammalian cell metabolism. The new materials are nontoxic to surrounding cells and tissues, and they degrade over time into products that are excreted from the body. When used as surgically implanted scaffolds, these materials act as a template, guiding the body’s cells as they form new tissue to replace flesh or bone that’s been lost to disease or injury. Since the scaffolds break down naturally, no further surgery is needed to remove them once they are implanted.

Mikos’ lab has also developed techniques for growing new bone and cartilage tissue by seeding the scaffolds with cells. Because the Mikos group’s scaffolds are highly porous and contain a large surface area, they allow seeded cells to receive nutrients from the body while the new tissue forms, thus overcoming one of the major roadblocks to tissue engineering.

In addition, Mikos and his associates are developing nonsurgical approaches for scaffold implantation. In this case, the scaffold material is injected as a liquid at the site of an injury, and it is exposed to light or other chemicals that cause it to harden within a few minutes. Once the material sets, it acts as an immediate aid in the body’s efforts to form new tissue and heal itself.

In developing its scaffolding materials, Mikos’ group has focused on chemical modifications that control material properties, such as stiffness, as well as the function of seeded cells. They’ve accumulated strong experimental evidence that shows their methods can be used to tailor implanted materials to attract certain cell types and direct their migration and differentiation to aid in the regeneration of specific tissues in desired areas.

Recently, the Mikos laboratory has been working on composite materials that support and guide developing tissues through the controlled release of bioactive molecules, and they are investigating nano-structured materials that can enhance the strength and load-bearing properties of scaffolds for orthopedic applications. They are also developing new fumaric acid-based polymeric carriers for targeted delivery of signaling molecules, including peptides, proteins and plasmid DNA.

A pioneer in the field of tissue engineering, Mikos is a founding editor of the journal Tissue Engineering and member of the editorial boards of the journals Biomaterials, Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, Cell Transplantation, Journal of Biomaterials Science Polymer Edition, Journal of Biomedical Materials Research and Journal of Controlled Release. He is also the organizer of the continuing education course Advances in Tissue Engineering offered annually at Rice since 1993.

Founded in 1954, the 1,700-member Orthopedic Research Society is dedicated to improving patient care through research and education in orthopedic surgery, musculoskeletal diseases, musculoskeletal injuries and related disciplines.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.