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The Power of Interdisciplinary Collaborations Leads to Improved Method of Growing Chondrocytes In Vitro

One of the goals of the CMI (and the CMMTR previously) is to link investigators from different fields. As part of these efforts, seed funding was provided to a team of investigators from the Industrial and System Engineering (COE) and the Molecular Biomedical Sciences (CVM) departments. The team brought together a PhD student, Dr. Sehwon Koh (North Carolina State University and now at Department of Cell Biology-Duke University), a Post Doctorate Fellow, Dr. Molly Purser (Department of Industrial Engineering-North Carolina State University and now at RTI Health Solutions), and two faculty members from different colleges, Dr. Rick Wysk (Department of Industrial Engineering) and Dr. Jorge Piedrahita (Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences).

According to Dr. Purser, “As far as how this came about – in working with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) on translating tissue-engineered products from the lab to a commercial product suitable for human use, we realized that many of the processes were not clearly defined. Dr. Wysk and I took an industrial engineering view of the process of developing tissue-engineered products. We began working with Dr. Koh and Dr. Piedrahita to define the process of expanding chondrocytes in manufacturing terms, which also included a cell quality aspect. If we are ever going to move to implanting lab-grown tissue-engineered products in humans, we need to be able to have a process that is efficient and produces a product that is not only safe to be implanted in humans, but has the appropriate characteristics to be effective (the quality aspect). This research was a step in this direction.”

Dr. Sehwon Koh has a similar perspective on the value of interdisciplinary collaborations. “Moving biology from the bench to the bedside requires collaborative thoughts and efforts between different fields of study. However we quite often don’t understand each other; almost like speaking a different language. It was a valuable learning experience for me, as a biologist, to understand how the engineers think and what is needed to move a basic observation to a commercial product. And the resulting published work is a good example of how we can move forward by sharing ideas and opinions with collaborators from different fields.”

Dr. Richard Wysk concurred stating, “It is very different for engineers to work with biologists and medical professionals on unstructured problems.  The language used by these diverse groups is very different and the methods that they bring to the table are also different. The good news is that the rewards for working together for these two communities can be far more significant than just staying comfortable in a more parochial environment. This work is testimony to this premise.  Working in laboratories that have two very different foci (improving our understanding of basic biological processes and developing new manufacturing processes) can change the way we approach problems.  This research produced very different results and moved both areas forward.”

This philosophy drives the Comparative Medicine Institute forward, forming new and unique collaborations that support translational research. For additional details on this work please see Cellular Reprogramming 19(4):232-244, 2017. Improved Chondrogenic Potential and Proteomic Phenotype of Porcine Chondrocytes Grown in Optimized Culture Conditions.