Treena Arinzeh, an adult stem cell researcher and Presidential Award winner from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), is among an elite group of young engineers attending the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering symposium.
Arinzeh, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT, is one of 88 of the nation’s brightest engineers chosen to attend the symposium, held Sept. 22-24 at the General Electric Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. The symposium unites engineers, ages 30 to 45, who are doing cutting-edge engineering research. The participants - from industry, academia, and government - were nominated to attend the symposium by fellow engineers.
The National Academy of Engineering is an independent, nonprofit group that advises the government on issues in engineering and technology.
Arinzeh, 34, was invited to the symposium because of her research proving that adult stem cells could help patients suffering from spinal cord injuries, bone and cartilage damage and related diseases. That research has led to two major adult stem-cell discoveries: One showing that stem cells, mixed with biomaterials known as scaffolds, can regenerate bone growth; and another proving that stem cells taken from one person can be successfully implanted into another.
“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.”
Arinzeh published a paper in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research that documented her first breakthrough in stem cell research. The paper focused on developing scaffolds that aid stem cells. Scaffolds, made from biomaterials such as calcium phosphates, act as frameworks for stem cells, allowing the cells to repair bone while the biomaterial degrades.
Her research could lead to medical breakthroughs that will 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 will not be needed. Stem cells could also help patients suffering from osteoporosis, whose fractured bones can be regenerated by the cells.
Arinzeh published a second 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 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.
“Treena has all the earmarks of a technical superstar,” said Mike Jaffe, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry at NJIT who before entering academia was a research fellow at Hoechst Cellanese Corporation. “She’s at the leading edge of modern biology,” Jaffe adds, “and if anyone can take stem-cell research forward yet another step, Treena can.”
Arinzeh’s research prowess has already earned her national recognition. In the fall of 2004, Arinzeh won the highest national honor given to a young researcher: The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She is also developing new undergraduate and graduate curricula in the field of tissue engineering, and she is doing community outreach to high schools in New Jersey and New York. Arinzeh, an African-American woman, hopes the above training will help increase the number of minorities and women in the field of engineering.
In the wake of her winning the Presidential Award, U.S. Congressman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) honored Arinzeh’s achievements by reading them into Congressional Record, the official proceedings of the U.S. Congress.
“I rise today to honor Treena Livingston Arinzeh for her outstanding work in the field of stem cell research,” Menendez said from the floor of the Congress. “Arinzeh is a trailblazer in the field of stem cell research and New Jersey, and our nation, will greatly benefit from her groundbreaking work.”