Calif. researchers collaborate on animal, human health

UC Davis Regenerative Medicine Consortium combines veterinary medicine, human medicine and bioengineering
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Aug 01, 2011


A collaborative future: Stem cell therapy is the current focus of the union of three departments—the veterinary school, medical school and engineering college— at the University of California-Davis.
Veterinarians, physicians and PhDs at the University of California-Davis are forming a coalition to conduct basic research, develop clinical applications and conduct clinical trials in regenerative medicine that will yield great benefits in animal and human health.

The UC Davis Regenerative Medicine Consortium, which is combining expertise from the veterinary school, medical school and engineering college (biomedical engineering department), constitutes a unique and synergistic scientific opportunity to develop new biological-medical therapies.

"Our veterinary investigative team has been an ongoing enterprise for over four years, and our production of new knowledge has been remarkable," says Gregory Ferraro, DVM, director of the Center for Equine Health. "Our new five-story building dedicated to translational research houses our regenerative medicine group and provides a superior opportunity for scientific collaboration between investigators with a broad array of divergent skills. Within our teaching hospital, we have a clinical regenerative medicine laboratory where we grow and expand stem cells for use by veterinary clinicians in the treatment of animal patients."

The veterinary school regenerative medicine research group had established an early working relationship with Jan Nolta, PhD, director of the Institute for Regenerative Cures at the UC Davis Health Sciences campus. Nolta's research team of 150 scientists is housed in a newly renovated 100,000-square-foot building in Sacramento, Calif., about 20 miles from the Davis campus.

"We collaborate closely with the Institute for Regenerative Cures and currently have several graduate students and post-doctoral researchers who work with both groups," says Ferraro. "They provide one element in a significant collaborative link between our human and veterinary regenerative medicine research teams."

Work on biological scaffold, matrix

Veterinary school officials are also working with the College of Engineering's Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), headed by Kyriacos A. Athanasiou, PhD. According to Athanasiou, the BME department straddles human medicine, veterinary medicine, life sciences and the business school, and, like glue, holds together the regenerative medicine programs run by the other disciplines. Their work is focused on biological scaffold and matrix development that, when combined with stem cells, can aid in the regeneration of many different types of body tissues (e.g., bone, cartilage, ligaments).

"We're currently collaborating with them in several areas of veterinary medicine that also serve as models for human tissue repair," says Ferraro. "We're attempting now to codify the relationship between the three colleges—the veterinary school, engineering school and medical school—into a more integrated and structured institute research program. We believe UC Davis has the unique set of individuals, programs and environment that can develop a world-class regenerative medicine program."

The BME department encompasses programs focusing on tissue engineering. One component is using scaffolding materials in conjunction with stem cells to enhance healing, says Larry Galuppo, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, professor and chief of equine surgery, Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The scaffolds act as conduits for the regenerative process to take place, not only allowing for cells to attach and begin to generate tissue in a three-dimensional fashion, but also to deliver growth factors and other agents to help in the regenerative process. The bonelike scaffolds the BME department develops can be used by stem cells to differentiate into bone cells and then begin to synthesize the matrix components of bone to repair various defects.

Athanasiou says, "What the BME department does feeds directly into the research by many of the investigators in regenerative human and veterinary medicine. There's active collaboration with our colleagues in veterinary medicine to treat some defects seen in the equine athlete."

The collaboration involves the small-animal side of veterinary medicine as well.

"My group also works directly with some of our colleagues to treat canine patients with mandible injuries or defects due to cancer," says Athanasiou. "It makes a nice unit when you have these three departments working together with a regenerative medicine focus. It won't be just stem cells alone or scaffolding alone, but mixtures of these things, including the discovery of tissue growth factors, to create the best regenerative response. So it makes sense to put us all together in an institute-type structure."

The veterinary regenerative medicine program at UC Davis also recently initiated the North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Association ( http://NAVRMA.org/), independent from the school but which has strong developmental support from UC Davis. In early June, the association held an international conference in Lexington, Ky., to discuss regenerative medical developments in animals and humans.