A young female African-American professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) was recognized today by President Bush for research showing that adult stem cells could help patients suffering from spinal cord injuries, bone and cartilage damage and related diseases.
Treena Livingston Arinzeh, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT, received the 2003 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) today during a ceremony at the White House. The award ceremony was presided over by John H. Marburger III, science advisor to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The Presidential Award, established in 1996, is the highest national honor for young scientists and engineers. Eight federal departments and agencies annually nominate young scientists and engineers whose research shows great promise. Arinzeh was nominated for the award by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds her research.
“I’m very proud to receive this prestigious presidential award,” Arinzeh said. “The award shows that my research in stem-cell based regeneration has great potential, and that it’s essential to the scientific education of students, both in college and in high school.”
Arinzeh, of Jersey City, was one of 20 out of 400 researchers who recently won an NSF Early Career Development award, and she was the only PECASE winner selected from the Northeast. Arinzeh won the Early Career Award – a $400,000 grant over five years – in April of 2003. Considered the NSF’s most prestigious award for new faculty members, the career awards honor the nation’s best young scientific researchers.
Arinzeh is also developing new undergraduate and graduate curricula in the field of tissue engineering, and is doing community outreach to high schools in New Jersey and New York. Arinzeh hopes the above training will help increase the number of minorities and women in the field of engineering.
Two years ago, Arinzeh published an influential paper in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research that documented her breakthrough in stem cell research. The paper focused on developing scaffolds that aid stem cells. Scaffolds are biomaterials, such as calcium phosphates, that act as a framework for stem cells, allowing the cells to repair bone as the biomaterial degrades.
Arinzeh performed animal studies on rats with bone defects; she also did cell-culture studies. Both showed that the biomaterials stimulated stem cells, producing new bone tissue and fully repairing the rats’ bones. After 12 weeks, their bones were regenerated, with full restoration of the mechanical properties of their long bones.
Her studies could lead to medical breakthroughs that would help a host of patients. Stem cell implantation, for instance, could help cancer patients who've had large tumors removed from bone, Arinzeh says. In many such surgeries, patients lose their limbs. But if her method of implanting stem cells mixed with biomaterials is shown to induce bone repair, amputation may not be necessary. Stem cells could also help patients suffering from osteoporosis, whose fractured bones can be regenerated by the cells.
Perhaps most importantly, last year Arinzeh published another paper in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery proving that adult stem cells taken from one patient can be successfully implanted in another. Researchers originally thought such a transfer might be rejected. And it's not just defective bones that may be regenerated by stem cells and biomaterials. Arinzeh is now testing biomaterials that, in combination with adult stem cells, might also repair cartilage, tendon and neuronal tissues.
“This is a very exciting time to be doing stem cell research,” Arinzeh said. “The field of tissue regeneration is wide open and has the potential to influence how physicians treat patients with severely damaged or diseased tissues.”