Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering collaboration links technology and medicine

Dr. Hai Yao working with student in the joint MUSC-Clemson bioengineering program.
Dr. Hai Yao working with student in the joint MUSC-Clemson bioengineering program.

The Clemson University-Medical University of South Carolina Bioengineering program’s mission is to bridge engineering and physical sciences with the life sciences to better understand fundamental biology and related disease processes through:

  • Application of engineering and physical science principles to unravel biological systems,
  • Refinement of biomedical technologies through multi–disciplinary translational research, and
  • Education and preparation of students for careers in bioengineering and related fields.

In addition to advances in health care and biomedical technologies that directly benefit the citizens of South Carolina and the United States, the Clemson-MUSC BioE program stimulates economic development through technology transfer and commercialization.

The program was established in 2003 through an inter-institutional agreement between Clemson and MUSC. Located in the Bioengineering Building on the MUSC campus, the institutional leadership of the program is charged to the Provosts at both MUSC and Clemson. The program is now comprised of five primary faculty from Clemson, permanently located with a full-time research presence on the MUSC campus in Charleston, and 26 basic science and clinical faculty from MUSC. While orthopaedics is a principal partner in the bioengineering program, research and education collaborations have been established in ten departments and colleges at MUSC involving cancer, heart disease, neuroscience, rehabilitation, dental and craniofacial medicine, ophthalmology, surgery, and pharmacology.

There is a full complement of state-of-the-art research laboratories and teaching facilities for graduate education. The unique opportunities for students include clinical immersion, direct collaboration with clinicians and basic life scientists, and exposure to life sciences education in an academic health center. Innovation and translational research are a particular focus of the program.

Studies are underway to develop real-time minimally invasive methods for evaluation of articular cartilage in diseased joints via arthroscopy to assess cell viability and extracellular matrix structure. This technology, which does not use antibodies or dyes for visualization, could provide direct benefit to surgeons evaluating patients with arthritis for cartilage restoration procedures or total joint replacement. Similarly, Clemson is a world leader in the development of smart sensors. Collaborations with surgeons aim to embed wireless, powerless, reportable sensors into joint replacement devices. This would allow real-time evaluation of implants during and after surgical placement, leading to better selection of implantable devices, improved alignment, and more reproducible patient outcomes.

A recently funded multi-year COBRE grant, led by Hai Yao, PhD, has led to establishment of the Clemson University NIH Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, entitled “South Carolina Translational Research Improving Musculoskeletal Health.” This new consortium seeks to improve product success rates and speed up regulatory approval processes by utilizing “Virtual Human Trials” to evaluate new products and custom-built computational models to assess product performance before undertaking human clinical trials. Yongren Wu, PhD, a graduate of the Clemson BioE program, is working closely with orthopaedic faculty to reveal the mechanisms of arthritis at the base of the thumb and the cause of spinal disc degeneration in the low back. Clemson’s expertise in computational modeling and bioengineering holds great promise to efficiently vet poor products and identify good candidates for rapid commercialization.

Finally, while many investigators focus on how medical devices affect the human body, Jeremy Gilbert, PhD, Director of the Clemson-MUSC BioE Program, leads one of the few groups in the world studying how human biomolecules affect the material properties of implantable medical devices. Ongoing studies will examine how the immune response and other biological processes contribute to medical device failure and release of toxic compounds into the body, leading to new therapies to preserve and restore proper function of devices within the body.

Jeremy L. Gilbert, PhD
Director, CU-MUSC Bioengineering Program

Dr. Jeremy Gilbert is the Hansjörg Wyss Smart State Endowed Chair for Regenerative Medicine and Professor of Bioengineering at Clemson and Director of the Clemson – MUSC Combined Program in Bioengineering, as well as Professor of Orthopaedics at MUSC. He received his PhD in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science, and Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. Dr. Gilbert was an associate professor in the Department of Biological Materials at Northwestern University Dental School and Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Engineering School before moving to Syracuse University, where he became Chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Neuroscience and subsequently was named Associate Dean for Research and Doctoral Programs in the College of Engineering. He is also the Founder of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research – Part B: Applied Biomaterials, and past President of the Society for Biomaterials. Dr. Gilbert was elected as a Fellow of the International Union of Societies of Biomaterials Science and Engineering and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineers. He is also on the Medical Devices Committee of the Food and Drug Administration for Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Devices.

Hai Yao, PhD
Associate Chair, CU-MUSC Bioengineering Program

Dr. Hai Yao is Professor and Ernest R. Norville Endowed Chair in the Department of Bioengineering at Clemson University, and assistant professor of materials science in the College of Dental Medicine at MUSC, as well as assistant professor of Orthopaedics at the College of Medicine there.

Dr. Yao serves on several expert national panels. His research interests include the biomechanical function, degeneration, and regeneration of skeletal systems, including the temporomandibular joint and the spinal intervertebral disc. Dr. Yao’s team contributed to the world’s first demonstration of a full synovial joint regeneration. He has extensive collaborations with the Orthopaedics Department, including creation of computational models of shoulder replacement devices and assessment of spinal surgical implants. Most notable, is the recent funding of a NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award. This multi-year $11.2 million award seeks mentorships for junior scientists and has strong linkage with the Department of Orthopaedics and Physical Medicine. Dr. Vincent Pellegrini serves as mentor and co-chair of the Clinical Advisory Committee.