Greenwood Genetic Center, Clemson share important genetic research news see more
Genetic networks define an individual’s unique characteristics that – coupled with lifestyle habits and other environmental factors – determine susceptibility to cancers, hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and numerous other ailments. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has tasked Clemson University with unlocking these genetic codes through a new $10.6 million grant to establish the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Human Genetics in collaboration with the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC).
The award funds an initial five-year phase of a COBRE, which can continue for 15 years, positioning the Clemson-GGC collaboration as a global leader in the scientific advancement of human genetics. The NIH COBRE program provides a long-term investment in the advancement of medical research around a central theme. This is NIH’s first COBRE specifically focused on human genetics.
Trudy Mackay, the Self Family Endowed Chair of Human Genetics, will lead the COBRE in Human Genetics along with Robert Anholt, provost’s distinguished professor of genetics and biochemistry, and Richard Steet, director of research at Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC).L-R: Robert Anholt, Trudy Mackay, Richard Steet
The Greenwood Genetic Center provides clinical services to more than 5,000 patients annually, and diagnostic laboratory testing, educational programs and research in medical genetics. Clemson’s Center for Human Genetics has collaborated closely with GGC since opening in 2018.
“Merging the expertise of Clemson’s genome science with the patient-driven focus of the Greenwood Genetic Center is very powerful,” Steet said. “The theme of this COBRE is comprehensive – covering common disorders like cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases as well as very rare genetic disorders. We take a lot of pride in that breadth, as it gives our collaborations and the efforts of this COBRE room to grow.”
At the heart of the COBRE in Human Genetics is a robust mentoring platform for early-career faculty. Leading scientists at several of the nation’s premier laboratories will serve as project mentors, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the National Cancer Institute, Duke University and the Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics at The Pennsylvania State University.
Initially, the COBRE in Human Genetics will feature four core research projects and numerous pilot projects. The following investigators lead the four core projects:
Andrei Alexandrov, assistant professor of genetics and biochemistry at Clemson, will analyze human nuclear long non-coding RNAs to identify potential targets for new treatments for cancer and viral diseases. A former scientist at Yale University, Alexandrov developed an ultra-high throughput method that enables the discovery of genes involved in human RNA surveillance.
Heather Flanagan-Steet, director of functional studies at the Greenwood Genetic Center, will study genetic mutations that can cause neurological and cognitive impairment, skeletal abnormalities and even early infant death. Her work on rare diseases largely involves the generation of zebrafish models to investigate gene function and disease pathogenesis. She pioneered the use of zebrafish to model rare inherited diseases.
Miriam Konkel, assistant professor of genetics and biochemistry at Clemson, will work to understand why and how transposable elements, sometimes called “jumping genes,” can move around the human genome and alter genetic expression. The movement of transposable elements may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Fabio Morgante, assistant professor of genetics and biochemistry at Clemson, will analyze genetic data from 500,000 people as part of a project to develop phenotypic models that can predict cardiovascular disease. His models will take into account ancestry, ethnicity and environmental factors that can affect disease susceptibility.
The COBRE in Human Genetics will support numerous pilot projects related to human genetics and expand its research as the COBRE progresses and attracts additional investigators.
The team is planning an annual symposium and a yearly retreat for the COBRE in Human Genetics participants to share knowledge and ideas. Already, renowned scientists worldwide, including members of the National Academy of Sciences, are participating in a monthly lecture series organized by the Center for Human Genetics.
“GGC is honored to be part of this first-ever NIH COBRE in the field of human genetics,” said Steve Skinner, MD, GGC Director. “By combining the Greenwood Genetic Center’s 47 years of expertise in providing quality medical genetics services with the research talent and computational power of the Clemson Center for Human Genetics, patients and families impacted by both common and rare genetic diagnoses will reap the benefits.”
“This grant truly raises the profile of both Clemson University and the Greenwood Genetic Center, and I am proud that our collaboration has the potential to make a difference for so many people. It is powerful to think of how many lives might be saved by learning more about the genetics behind some of these devastating diseases,” said Clemson University President Jim Clements.
Research reported in this publication is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P20GM139769. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Registrations Surge, Partnering and Virtual Exhibit Hall Draw Strong Interest see more
A newly announced group of national and state leaders will join Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) President and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath in headlining SCBIO's “The Power of Us” virtual conference slated for broadcast Feb. 16-17.
Newly announced additions include Microsoft Vice President Jamie Harper, who leads the global corporation's team supporting both higher education and K-12 initiatives across America, and Bill Stadtlander, Commercial Leader of Verily, the Google subsidiary focused on life sciences and use of health data and AI to improve lives.
At Microsoft, Mr. Harper leads a team that supports higher education and K-12 initiatives impacting students, teachers, and leaders both public and private. He previously has led Microsoft's US Education team and served as the General Manager of ten countries in Asia and South Africa. Prior to Microsoft, Jamie worked for The Coca-Cola Company and Westinghouse Power Generation. He holds an MBA from Emory University, and a degree in Industrial Engineering with a minor in Economics from Clemson University.
Mr. Stadtlander is the Commercial Lead at Verily for Baseline, its end-to-end digital platform solution to transform clinical research by increasing participation, driving efficiency and incorporating novel data. Bill has over 15 years of commercial healthcare experience with prior roles at Ceribell, Element Science, Boston Scientific and McKinsey & Co.'s healthcare practice. He holds an MBA from Wharton, a Master of Biotechnology from University of Pennsylvania, and Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering degrees from MIT.
Also named to speak at SCBIO 2021 are Courtney Christian, Senior Director of Policy and Research at PhRMA and former leader of the Black Women's Health Imperative; Dr. Harris Pastides, former USC President and outgoing chair of the SC Institute of Medicine and Public Health; Dr. Pat Cawley, CEO of MUSC Health; and Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, Dean of the USC School of Medicine - Upstate and Chief Academic Officer of Prisma Health Upstate, among other speakers.
Themed “The Power of Us,” the 2-day SCBIO 2021 virtual event will feature sessions on The Power of Innovation, The Power of Partnership, and The Power of People – each a fundamental force which drives the state’s surging $12 billion industry that is a key contributor to South Carolina’s expanding knowledge economy.
The conference will feature a virtual exhibit hall showcasing scores of life sciences industry organizations from across the country, and presentation of the prestigious Pinnacle Awards by South Carolina Life Sciences to the outstanding 2020 Organization of the Year and Individual of the Year. SCBIO CEO Sam Konduros will deliver the “State of South Carolina’s Life Sciences Industry” address, while attendees can schedule 1-to-1 meetings with top executives through the conference’s Partnering Portal.
Hundreds of life sciences leaders from across the nation are already registered to attend with hundreds more expected. SCBIO's virtual conference is supported by Presenting Sponsor Vikor Scientific, Champion Sponsor Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Keynote Sponsor Medpoint and others. Among leading biotech and med-tech industry brands participating are Nephron, Vikor, BIO, Johnson & Johnson, AVX, PhRMA, Medpoint, AdvaMed, Poly-Med, VWR, Ritedose Corporation, Rhythmlink, SoftBox Systems, ZEUS, Patheon Thermo Fisher, Zverse, Abbott, Alcami and more. All of South Carolina’s research universities – MUSC, Clemson and the University of South Carolina – are represented, as are major healthcare systems, and entities including the South Carolina Department of Commerce, SCRA, South Carolina Hospital Association and others.
Registration is open online at the 2021 Virtual Conference section of www.scbio.org. Registration is free to employees of most SCBIO investors and supporters as well as to students interested in life sciences careers, while faculty and teachers can attend the entire conference for $25. General admission tickets are available for as little as $75. Virtual Exhibit space and sponsorships are also available by inquiring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCBIO is South Carolina’s investor-driven economic development organization exclusively focused on building, advancing, and growing the life sciences industry in the state. The industry has a $12 billion economic impact in the Palmetto State, with more than 750 firms directly involved and over 43,000 professionals employed directly or indirectly in the research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental and agricultural biotechnology products.
For additional information on SCBIO or to register for SCBIO 2021, visit www.SCBIO.org.
Clemson start-up getting noticed see more
When innovation and expertise meet practicality, the result is not quite magic, but it sure is close.
This is the strength behind Aravis BioTech, a startup headed in part by Jeffrey Anker of the College of Science and John DesJardins of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, as well as Dr. Caleb Behrend, an orthopedic surgeon in Arizona specializing in the spine. The team is developing screws used in orthopedic surgery that employ easy-to-use sensors to determine the status of fracture healing. This, in turn, helps physicians know when patients can safely apply weight to their healing fracture.
Aravis BioTech is one of three finalists for the InnoVision Technology Development Award. InnoVision is a non-profit organization that fosters the growth of South Carolina’s innovation economy and recognizes leadership, innovation and technological excellence.
“My background is in analytical chemistry – which means I make sensors,” said Anker, a professor in the Department of Chemistry.
Anker and DesJardins, a professor in the Department of Bioengineering, met on a bus at a student NASA project at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 2010. The pair decided to bring their work together to develop a medical implant that would change color as a fracture healed. Through a grant from SC BioCRAFT (Bioengineering Center for Regeneration and Formation of Tissues) and an NIH grant, they developed screws that changed color based on how tight they were.
But Dr. Behrend, a spine surgeon and longtime friend and collaborator of Anker’s, said that such a sensor would be more practical if surgeons could see it on an X-ray.
“Most Americans will break a couple of bones, on average, in their lifetime,” Anker said. “If it’s a bad break and you can’t just put a cast on it, they need to put in hardware. That’s where those screws come in.”
An X-ray doesn’t show how well a bone is healing. Between the break and full healing, there is an intermediate phase where the repaired fracture can and should bear weight – the question is how much.
“Maybe it can take your weight for a bit, but it will eventually fatigue and fail,” Anker said. “Similar to a paper clip, I can bend it a lot, but if I go back and forth, back and forth, eventually it will fail. The same thing happens with these implants. That’s a huge problem.”
Consider a hip fracture. Anker said one in 10 Americans will break hips. Rather than replacing the hip, the most common repair is to secure the ball back to the femur with a simple screw.
“People are encouraged to bear weight immediately, but if it’s not healing, the screw will probably eventually cut out of the bone or there will be other mechanical failures,” Anker said. “That happens rarely, but when it happens, it’s devastating.”
The screw is positioned into the bone repair with a wire guided through its hollow core. Aravis BioTech’s implanted device enhances the screw.
“We add a straight piece to the bottom of the hollow screw so that when it bends, this straight piece moves relative to the screw casing,” Anker said. “We make that straight piece out of a material that is dark on X-rays. You can see how much the screw is bending, quantify how much load is on it and be able to track the patient’s progress.”
The implant can help surgeons determine whether the device has been tightened sufficiently during surgery. And because load can lead to postoperative failure, it can help determine whether the patient is at an optimum activity level or if activity needs to be reduced until further healing takes place. Once the bone has healed, the hardware typically stays in and becomes superfluous.
A technology translation grant from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (ICORPS) program to Clemson University allowed the Aravis team to interview a variety of stakeholders, including physicians, patients, physical therapists, insurance executives and hospital administrators to determine if the team is making a device that best meets the needs of patients. A South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) Acceleration Grant helped fund prototypes.
The team is expanding the idea to plates and other devices, as well as to sensors that can track infection based on chemical changes.
In addition to Aravis BioTech’s honor as an InnoVision Technology Development Award finalist, all four finalists for InnoVision’s COVID-19 Response – Technology Research Award are from Clemson University, including the COVID Microbead Screening Project, a team mentored by Anker, which also won the Clemson COVID Challenge, a summer virtual research and design opportunity. The team investigated a quick COVID-19 test that uses minimal, easily accessed equipment.
Enjoy good news for a change, compliments of SCBIO... see more
SCBIO's latest Monday Moment arrives amidst the COVID-19 storm to provide meaningful and inspiring information in 4 minutes or less. This week, enjoy an uplifting reminder from Clemson University's Angie Leidinger... plus lots more uplifting news... enjoy today's edition right here...
Over twenty experts to speak on major business issues see more
Subject matter leaders from across state, nation to cover what business needs to know to thrive despite pandemic, how to leverage state’s fastest-growing knowledge economy segment
SOUTH CAROLINA – September 2, 2020 – SCBIO will host a half-day virtual program September 23 -- Life Sciences Boot Camp: Building Your Brand & Business In a Pandemic – to inform and connect businesses, educators and professionals from across the state on leveraging opportunities, identifying trends and overcoming challenges that face organizations interested in tapping into South Carolina’s fastest-growing industry segment.
To be held completely online, the program will run from 8:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23rd. The program is delivered free to all SCBIO Members and Investors, and for a nominal fee of $50 to all non-Members. Students and media may also attend free of charge. Six sessions featuring over 20 noted presenters will precede a closing Virtual Networking Session for all attendees. Confirmed topics and speakers include:
- Search for a Cure: A National Update on the Global Pandemic – featuring a live national report from PhRMA executive Sharon Lamberton on success in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lies ahead for America
- Marketing in a Pandemic: Building Your Brand & Your Topline – despite the economic turndown, some businesses are enjoying even great success – and are positioning themselves for an even better future. Learn the secrets to thriving, not surviving, during and after the pandemic from Henry Pellerin of Vantage Point, Heather Hoopes-Matthews of NP Strategy and Jessica Cokins of Thorne Research
- Best Practices in Talent Recruiting, Retention & Development – Nephron's Lou Kennedy, Arthrex's Jimmy Dascani and ERG's Matt Vaadi share how the state’s life sciences leaders are attracting, training and retaining top talent – and offer ideas your organization can deploy right now
- Partnering Effectively with Higher Education & Research Universities – tap into the wealth of resources, knowledge and experience prevalent in the state’s research universities to enhance innovation and success. Enjoy insights from Chad Hardaway of USC’s Office of Economic Engagement, Michael Rusnak of MUSC’s Foundation for Research Development, and Angela Lockman of Clemson
- Leading Virtual Teams Effectively – the pandemic has showed us that working virtually is here to stay. Find out how to make your organization collaborate seamlessly, efficiently and effectively -- wherever your colleagues are located -- from Annie McCoy of ChartSpan, Andrew Collins of Alcami and Jenni Dunlap of Parker Poe
- Pivoting with a Partner: Collaborating to Grow Your Business – learn how to successfully identify and partner with other organizations to expand and enhance product/service offerings. Hear incredible stories from the teams at Zverse/Phoenix Specialty and Rhythmlink, ZIAN and MUSC as they share their stories -- and how you can find your next great opportunity.
The program will end with a Virtual Networking session offering attendees to chat with leading economic development professionals including Stephanie Few of Womble Bond Dickinson, Tushar Chikhliker of Nexsen Pruet, and John Osborne of Good Growth Capital for conversations on Onshoring, Incentives, Accessing Capital and more.
To register or for more details, visit the Events page. Interested students and media members are invited to attend, with advance registration, at no cost.
SCBIO is South Carolina’s investor-driven public/private economic development organization exclusively focused on building, advancing, and growing the life sciences industry in the state. The industry has an $11.4 billion annual economic impact in the Palmetto State, with more than 675 firms directly involved and 43,000 professionals employed in the research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental and agricultural biotech and products. The state-wide nonprofit has offices in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston, and represents companies in the advanced medicines, medical devices, equipment, diagnostics, IT, and healthcare outcome industries. Life sciences is recognized as the fastest-growing segment of South Carolina’s knowledge economy.
For additional information on SCBIO, visit www.SCBIO.org.
Dr. David Cole chronicled many MUSC achievements during the 2020 fiscal year see more
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Aug. 14, 2020) – Recently, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Medical University Hospital Authority (MUHA) Board of Trustees held their regularly scheduled combined committee sessions and board meeting. With its fiscal year-end closing on June 30, MUSC administrators focused on the multilayered impacts of the novel coronavirus on the operations of all three missions of the institution – education, research and patient care – along with MUSC’s leadership role across the community and state during this pandemic. To support established social distancing guidelines in the COVID-19 era, the MUSC trustees and administrators met via teleconference.
“The ripple effects of the pandemic continue to reach every area of our institution,” said MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS. “We are committed to battling this virus at every turn and continue to find innovative ways to deliver safe, top-quality education and patient care in the face of this challenge. In addition, we are engaged in ongoing research projects, many which, in collaboration with national networks, are designed to help define how to best treat and mitigate the impact of this virus.”
“Throughout the pandemic, MUSC Health has been recognized and called upon as an essential health care resource, having performed nearly 138,000 diagnostic screening tests, primarily through mobile testing sites in communities across the state,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., CEO of MUSC Health and vice president for Health Affairs, University. “In partnership with the state legislature, MUSC set up mobile screening and collection sites in rural and underserved areas in an intentional bid to reach those who are most vulnerable and too often underserved when it comes to health care. Reliable diagnostic and antibody testing remain key elements of managing this unprecedented statewide health challenge.”
Despite the hurdles posed by COVID-19, Cole chronicled many MUSC achievements during the 2020 fiscal year, including:
- The MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion opened in February.
- MUSC became the only institution in the country to house both a Digestive Disease Research Core Center and a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence in Digestive and Liver Disease.
- MUSC Health West Ashley Medical Pavilion opened as scheduled in December and served 10,418 patients in the first month, with 214 operative procedures.
- The South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute, one of about 60 Clinical and Translational Science Award hubs nationwide, was awarded a $24M five-year renewal.
- Safely held a series of virtual graduation celebrations, including a drive-through diploma pick-up event for its 660 graduates.
- Transitioned more than 3,000 students to online education in response to the novel coronavirus within 24 hours’ notice.
- MUSC was first in the nation to combine drive-through testing with a virtual screening platform for potential COVID-19 patients.
- MUSC and Clemson collaborated to launch the Healthy Me – Healthy SC program to increase health access and fight health disparities statewide. The program began expanding in early 2020 after successful pilots in Anderson, Barnwell and Williamsburg counties.
- MUSC, Clemson and Siemens Healthineers co-hosted a summit in Columbia about artificial intelligence (AI) to bring together faculty, clinicians and engineers. They shared information about current work, new opportunities and discussed the future of AI in health care. The pilot effort funded three joint AI projects with Clemson.
- U.S. News & World Report named MUSC the state’s best hospital for the fifth consecutive year.
- The inaugural 2019 Lowvelo Bike Ride for Cancer Research engaged more than 709 cyclists and 300 volunteers, raising some $650,000 to support MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.
- The U.S. Patent Office granted the MUSC Foundation for Research Development 18 patents.
- MUSC received $25 million from the General Assembly to partner with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the South Carolina Hospital Association to develop and deploy a statewide testing plan. The focus of the plan is on rural and underserved areas of the state. More than 200 testing events/sites have been implemented.
- MUSC Health continues to support the reopening plan and testing strategy for the University of SC, College of Charleston, The Citadel and Clemson University.
The 16-member MUSC/MUHA board voted unanimously to elect James Lemon, DMD, as chairman and Charles W. Schulze, CPA, as vice chairman. Each will serve a two-year term. Lemon is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon by training. A native of Barnwell, he has lived in Columbia for more than three decades. Elected to the MUSC board in 2014, he serves as the medical professional representative from the 2nd Congressional District. Schulze, a Greenwood native, began his first term as an MUSC trustee in 2002 as the lay representative from the 3rd Congressional District. A retired shareholder of a regional accounting and consulting firm, Schulze currently practices and is an expert in financial forensics.
In other business, the board voted to approve:
- The fiscal year 2021 budgets for MUSC (University), the MUSC Health system and MUSC Physicians.
- Moving the spring commencement and graduation date from its originally scheduled date of May 22 to May 15, 2021.
- A seven-year lease to provide new clinical care space for the MUSC Neuro Rehabilitation Institute in Charleston.
- A supplemental HVAC system for the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Compounding Pharmacy.
- A lease renewal to provide 140 parking spaces at the intersection of Line Street and Hagood Avenue.
The MUSC/MUHA Board of Trustees serves as separate bodies to govern the university and hospital, normally holding two days of committee and board meetings six times a year. For more information about the MUSC Board of Trustees, visit http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/leadership/board/index.html.
About The Medical University of South Carolina
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The state’s leader in obtaining biomedical research funds, in fiscal year 2019, MUSC set a new high, bringing in more than $284 million. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available, while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan, and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2020, for the sixth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.
MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3.2 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.
AI efforts to fall under Artificial Intelligence Research Institute for Science and Engineering see more
Clemson University is consolidating its ongoing and future artificial intelligence research and education initiatives under one umbrella: the Clemson Artificial Intelligence Research Institute for Science and Engineering.
Eighty faculty members, including some researchers who have used and researched AI for years, will work under the umbrella organization, which also will spearhead STEM workforce development projects at the school to strengthen skills in science, technology, engineering and math, according to a news release. The move follows a presidential executive order last year that called for intensified AI training across the country, which led Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon to establish AI labs.
“AI is pervasive now, and we have to prepare our students for a different world,” professor Mitch Shue, executive director of AIRISE, said in the news release. “Combining all of Clemson’s resources in one institute will help us recruit top students and faculty and better compete for federal grants that fund cutting-edge research.”
Feng Luo, AIRISE’s director and founder, hopes the institute will help open new opportunities for Clemson students to meet mounting demand in the field.
“The requirement for AI from industry has dramatically increased. When a company has data, it wants to make sense of the data, and AI is one of the ways to help them,” Luo said in the release. He is also a computer science professor.
One of Luo’s earlier AI projects included an initiative to help quell citrus-greening disease with a $4.3 million federal grant, according to the release. Other studies undertaken by Clemson researchers include deploying a cyber attack defense system for autonomous vehicles, inspecting vehicles on an assembly line for defects and earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“With AIRISE, Clemson will be well-positioned to play a key role in conducting cutting-edge research and creating the STEM workforce of the future,” Amy Apon, director of Clemson’s School of Computing, said in the release. “We have a real opportunity to help enhance economic development and U.S. competitiveness.”
Clemson targets fix for mask shortage see more
(Courtesy, Paul Alongi, Clemson College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences)
Melinda Harman of Clemson University is volunteering her time to explore how hospitals could wash and sanitize medical masks without having to ship them elsewhere or buy an expensive piece of equipment.
A device that Harman designed to hold multiple N95 masks is central to her idea. It would help ensure the masks maintain their shape while being washed so that they continue to fit securely around the mouth and nose, said Harman, an associate professor of bioengineering and director of Clemson University’s Medical Device Recycling and Reprocessing program, or GreenMD.
The masks help prevent healthcare workers from inhaling the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and have been in short supply since the pandemic began.
As part of her work, Harman said she has engaged three leading healthcare companies that offer expertise in detergents and decontamination. She is testing different kinds of detergents to find the best solution for cleaning mucus and proteins from the masks.
The detergents are commercially available and already used by hospitals to clean other types of medical equipment.
Harman said that her goal is “to validate a cleaning process that is compatible with existing capabilities and equipment commonly available at hospitals in South Carolina and worldwide.”
The challenge is “to avoid interfering with mask performance, while effectively cleaning the masks without degrading their filtering capacity,” she said.
Harman added, “Working with innovative industry partners is a considerable advantage, with everyone on the team willing to contribute a potential solution. They are providing reliable products that are already proven to meet routine reprocessing challenges in healthcare delivery.”
Harman said one of the advantages to her approach is that many hospitals already have the ability to clean medical equipment, even if they aren’t yet applying it to the masks. That means hospitals wouldn’t need to buy any capital equipment, she said.
Further, the masks would stay at the hospital, reducing travel time, the risk of spreading contamination outside of the hospital and the additional burden on an already-stressed logistics system, Harman said.
“The technology I’m working on is meant to be used broadly, compatible with existing reprocessing practices that are already in hospitals,” Harman said. “It’s intended for rapid deployment in health care settings, and it’s meant to be compatible with any sterilization system.”
Harman added, “Cleaning masks before sterilization enables more masks to be reused Right now, guidelines for sterilization require N95 masks to be inspected and discarded if they are ‘soiled.’ My idea is to reliably clean masks to remove both the visible and ‘invisible’ soils, making the entire reuse process safer.”
Martine LaBerge, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, said that Harman is well qualified to lead the work.
Harman has conducted extensive research into reuse and reprocessing of medical equipment. As director of GreenMD, she engages students in industry-driven research targeting healthcare needs in South Carolina and broader global health challenges. GreenMD is the nation’s only engineering-focused program for medical device design targeted for reprocessing and reuse.
“Dr. Harman has built a career on developing innovative ways to reprocess and reuse medical equipment that is normally disposable, which uniquely positions her to have a global impact,” LaBerge said. “I thank her for her service to South Carolina, the nation and the globe as we join together in the face of the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.”
Harman said that if her idea works, used masks would be sent to central sterilization facilities within hospitals. The device she designed would hold the masks while they are cleaned. After cleaning, the masks would go through a separate sterilization process to get rid of any lingering microorganisms, including coronavirus.
The mask-holder that Harman designed could be 3D-printed, she said. However, she is focusing on more rapid manufacturing approaches using common acrylic materials. The technology could be readily adapted in hospitals from South Carolina to India, Harman said.
She recently disclosed the technology to the Clemson University Research Foundation, setting it on the path to commercialization and raising the potential for widespread use.
Harman said what’s been most interesting to her is that her previous work with resource-poor countries has come home to the United States, with disrupted supply chains and inadequate supplies at the point of need.
“That’s exactly the situation we’ve been working on with other countries,” Harman said. “For me that’s just been a startling change. It’s been amazing to see how many people have become interested in the topic of safe and sustainable reuse and how many unique solutions they come up with. I hope that creative energy continues, because it can solve a lot of global health problems.”
GGC Partnership Campus website to market for future growth see more
Courtesy of GSA Biz Wire
The Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) Foundation, a nonprofit 501c3 established to serve as the philanthropic arm supporting the mission of the Greenwood Genetic Center, is proud to announce the launch of a new website highlighting their GGC Partnership Campus at http://partnershipcampus.com/.
The GGC Partnership Campus will serve as both an anchor of Greenwood’s emerging Medical Innovation District and as a vital, connected hub within the broader Greenwood community. The campus will become the location of choice for companies and organizations seeking a quality-of-life environment with a focus on promoting connections and collaboration.
The GGC Partnership Campus will provide a unique asset for the City of Greenwood while supporting GGC’s long-term goals for the delivery of clinical care, diagnostic testing, research advances, and educational initiatives.
In addition to the Greenwood Genetic Center, the campus currently includes The Upper Savannah Council of Governments, Carolina Health Center’s Children's Center, and the Clemson Center for Human Genetics’ Self Regional Hall.
The Clemson Center for Human Genetics’ (CCHG) presence on the campus enables Clemson’s growing genetics program to collaborate closely with the tradition of excellence in genetic services, testing, and research at GGC, combining basic science with clinical care. Last year, CCHG named internationally acclaimed geneticist, Dr. Trudy Mackay, as Director of CCHG. Dr. Mackay is building a team of researchers to advance the understanding of the fundamental principles by which genetic and environmental factors determine and predict both healthy traits and susceptibility to disease in humans. Together, the CCHG and GGC will strive to use new technologies and knowledge to develop treatments for genetic disorders.
The GGC Partnership Campus website features a streamlined modern design, improved functionality, and easy access to essential information to help individuals and companies looking to locate on the GGC Partnership Campus. The new comprehensive website offers campus information, relocation assistance, a facilities overview, news, and contact information.
About The Greenwood Genetic Center Foundation
The GGC Foundation is a nonprofit 501c3 established to serve as the philanthropic arm supporting the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) in their work of serving families in the fight against genetic diseases, birth defects and autism. GGC has provided over 45 years of compassionate clinical care, unparalleled diagnostic lab services, globally-renowned research discoveries, and innovative educational programs. Visit ggc.org/foundation.
Clemson, Prisma Health to collaborate on developing new medical treatments see more
Researchers at Clemson University and Prisma Health have received funding to collaborate on the development of new medical treatment and diagnostic technologies.
Three Clemson-Prisma Health collaborations received investments from the recently created Innovation Maturation Fund, a joint effort between the Health Sciences Center (HSC) at Prisma Health and the Clemson University Division of Research. The program provides health care-focused grants designed to advance the development and commercialization of innovative medical initiatives and translational science, to improve the health care industry and to promote economic growth in the region.
The projects supported by this fund include a system to monitor triggers affecting respiratory health, injectable tissue regeneration technology and a monitoring device for patients with chronic kidney disease.
This year’s Innovation Maturation Fund awards range from $20,000 to $35,000 and were granted to:
Brian Booth, assistant professor in the department of bioengineering, and Jeffery Edenfield, medical director at the Prisma Health Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR), to further develop a collagen-type medical implant that could greatly aid in breast tissue regeneration post-lumpectomy and prevent the recurrence of tumors.
Goutam Koley, professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, and Steve Snodgrass, pediatric pulmonologist, to develop a mobile sensor system that monitors environmental triggers for respiratory health issues that are especially prevalent in patients with respiratory illnesses. The monitoring system will utilize a battery powered miniaturized sensor system with cellular data connectivity that can be carried in person to continuously monitor specific environmental parameters for an individual.
Robert Latour, McQueen-Quattlebaum Professor in the department of bioengineering, and Sudha Garimella, clinical assistant professor in the School of Health Research and medical director of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology and Hypertension at Prisma Health–Upstate, t0 continue to develop ammonia breath-test sensors that can be used by patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) to measure the ammonia concentration in their exhaled breath. This technology would enable patients with CKD to monitor their physiologic status within the comfort of their own homes.
Managed by the Clemson University Research Foundation, the goal of the fund is to increase applied research collaborations between Clemson faculty, graduate students and Prisma Health clinicians and to promote ideation and design of medical technology innovations that are attractive for commercialization.
“The Innovation Maturation Fund is a special funding program that was developed in conjunction with the Clemson Division of Research and Prisma Health to target unmet needs in the health care industry,” said Chris Gesswein, executive director of the Clemson University Research Foundation. “I am excited to be able to participate in granting the first round of funds to deserving researchers through this new program. An important step towards fostering and supporting innovation in health sciences, with this program we have the unique opportunity to accelerate the commercialization of medical technologies in an effort to create a more self-sustaining model for promoting growth in health care.”
“Prisma Health is excited to partner with Clemson University to engage companies and researchers in developing the next innovative breakthroughs in healthcare,” said Cody Reynolds, technology transfer manager in the Office of Innovation at Prisma Health-Upstate. “The Innovation Maturation Fund provides early-stage technical solutions to clinical opportunities and access to clinical learning environments that will equip researchers with the tools necessary to successfully obtain public and private funding.”
Hitachi, Clemson partner on new initiative see more
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death. It accounts for 31 percent of deaths globally1 and for more than $351 billion in health expenditures, costs which are expected to increase by 100 percent by 2035.
More than ever, there is a growing need for a highly trained workforce that can play a critical role in reducing these alarming statistics. Clemson University and Hitachi Healthcare Americas are answering this call. The two have joined forces to accelerate innovation in cardiovascular imaging to help students reach their full potential.
Technical training for quality care
Early detection and diagnosis through regular appointments and the use of technology, like cardiovascular sonography, is critical to reducing cardiovascular related deaths and improving the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. And with an aging baby boomer population, cardiovascular sonographers are in high demand. The current health care market employs approximately 130,000 sonographers and is expected to experience a growth rate of 14 percent (18,000 jobs)3 between 2018 and 2028.
Providing students with real world experience, and access to state-of-the-art facilities and technology are critical priorities for preparing the talent pipeline.
Since 2011, Clemson’s Department of Public Health Sciences has offered the Cardiovascular Imaging Leadership Concentration in collaboration with the Health Sciences Center at Prisma Health. Through this program, the University has been instrumental in preparing students to enter the workforce by offering technical training in noninvasive vascular testing and adult echocardiography.
Now, through Hitachi and Clemson’s most recent collaboration, Clemson’s CVT students will have the chance to use Hitachi’s software further preparing them to enter the health care industry. Hitachi is also establishing the Hitachi Healthcare Outreach and Professional Development Fund, which will support faculty and students for programming and outreach efforts across South Carolina.
Students will have access to VidiStar PACS Online Reporting software Platform, Hitachi’s DICOM viewer, echo viewer and report modules and vascular reports. Hitachi is also providing staff to train students on use in a clinical setting.
Software for the cardiovascular sonography machines use soundwaves (ultrasound) to create a moving image of the heart. Combined with Doppler ultrasound, physicians can see areas of poor blood supply to the heart in patients with conditions, like:
coronary artery disease (CAD)
valvular heart disease
deep vein thrombosis-DVT
peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
And the non-invasive2 procedure allows medical professionals to:
Assess overall function of the heart
Determine the presence of many types of heart disease
Follow the progression of heart disease over time
Evaluate the effectiveness of medical or surgical treatment
Sonographers are also tasked with providing notes and feedback to physicians when they’re unavailable, increasing the importance of sonographers’ role on patient health and outcomes.
Hitachi Healthcare America’s value-based structured reports leverage a cloud-based image management and analytics platform, helping customers successfully deploy and adopt technology across complex and diverse organizations, apply advanced analytics and data mine to their valuable patient data.
The reporting softwares being provided by Hitachi will further strengthen the skillset of CVT graduates, ensuring they are prepared to execute the necessary reports.
This is not the first venture between Clemson and Hitachi4. Hitachi High Technologies has long partnered with the Electron Microscopy Facility providing cutting edge microscopes and supporting the Hitachi High Technologies Graduate Fellowship to further the depth and breadth of advanced research and development being done at Clemson.
Hitachi and Clemson’s most recent partnership will accelerate innovation through an in-depth understanding of issues facing healthcare through the eyes of its students. The next generation of ideas and improvements will benefit Hitachi’s product development, Clemson’s students and patients everywhere.
Clemson's Martine LaBerge shapes students, future through ehr work see more
Martine LaBerge said that in her 17 years leading Clemson University’s bioengineering department, she has learned something about leadership that she passes on to colleagues who are just starting down the same path.
“I tell them it’s all about people,” she said. “You get people aligned under one roof to believe in one brand and to have a mission that is focused on something other than themselves.”
A new award has brought leadership sharply into focus for LaBerge, who has served as chair of the bioengineering department since 2002.
The Biomedical Engineering Society recently honored LaBerge with the inaugural Herbert Voigt Distinguished Service Award. The honor recognizes her extraordinary service to the society through volunteering and leadership.
It’s the latest of many milestones in a career devoted to advancing the field of bioengineering and turning Clemson’s bioengineering department into a powerhouse of education and research.
“Dr. LaBerge epitomizes the kind of leadership we seek at Clemson,” said Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “For our future success it is vital to look at what she has accomplished in bioengineering as a benchmark and instill a similar passion in the next generation. If we do this well, it will strengthen Clemson for decades to come.”
LaBerge has helped establish new collaborations with the likes of Arthrex, Prisma Health and the Medical University of South Carolina. She has had a hand in hiring all but one of the department’s 30 faculty members, and she has worked with them to develop new curricula.
LaBerge was at the helm when a 29,000-square-foot annex was added to Rhodes Engineering Research Center. And she played a central role in establishing the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus, also called CUBEInC.
The department’s faculty, with LaBerge’s support, lead two separate Centers of Biomedical Excellence, together representing $37 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Clemson ranks fourth this year among the nation’s best value schools for biomedical engineering, according to bestvalueschools.com. And in a separate ranking by U.S News & World Report, Clemson ranked 21st among biomedical engineering programs at public universities nationwide.
I.V. Hall, a former master’s student under LaBerge who is now on the department’s advisory board, said she has the ability to get people to buy into a vision and deliver what it takes to make it happen.
“Her influence and her passion are the reasons the department is where it is,” said Hall, who is worldwide president for the DePuy Synthes Trauma, Craniomaxillofacial and Extremities Division. “She personifies Clemson bioengineering.”
Throughout her career, LaBerge has remained in touch with students and their needs.
The commitment to students made an impression on Margarita Portilla, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in bioengineering and is now pursuing her Ph.D. in bioengineering.
“Dr. LaBerge is very close and always interacting with her students,” Portilla said. “I was always fascinated with her. As an undergraduate, I told my friends, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like Dr. LaBerge.’”
One of LaBerge’s guiding principles is summed up in the department’s motto, “exemplifying collegiality.”
At the start of each semester, she asks faculty to reflect on how collegial they are, using a short questionnaire and meter they can use to assess themselves. She also gives students a wallet-size card with the department’s mission, vision and goals, underscored by the motto in capital orange letters.
LaBerge calls it their “credit card to graduate and be successful in life.”
She said that what she likes best about her job is mentoring faculty, networking, building Clemson’s academic reputation and working with students.
“There is no better professional than a Clemson bioengineering student,” LaBerge said. “It’s because of the way we educate them. They’re honest, and they have integrity. Our kids leave with emotional intelligence, because they see people doing it. We teach by example, and we lead by example. And I think everybody in this department is like that.”
Nicole Meilinger, a senior bioengineering major, credits LaBerge with helping open several opportunities for her.
She said that LaBerge encouraged her to apply for a three-semester rotation at CUBEInC through the Cooperative Education Program. The position put Meilinger into contact with some of the department’s industry partners and gave her the chance to conduct research.
Meilinger said her work was published, and she had the opportunity to present her findings at conferences.
LaBerge also introduced Meilinger to a class on developing and selling medical devices and recommended her for an Arthrex scholarship, which she received. Meilinger said that she has secured an internship with Arthrex and plans to start after graduating in May.
“I came into bioengineering not knowing what I wanted to do, and Dr. LaBerge has been the biggest mentor in helping me find different career paths,” Meilinger said. “She’s always helping us in ways you can’t even imagine.”
LaBerge, who is originally from Canada, arrived at Clemson as an assistant professor in 1990. She remembers having offers from other U.S. schools within a year. Two years after she arrived at Clemson, she interviewed to be an astronaut, she said.
“That was when they were working on the space station,” LaBerge said. “Canada needed a couple of astronauts. I went through the interview process.”
Ultimately, another candidate was chosen, and LaBerge said that she admired and followed his career.
What has kept her at Clemson for nearly decades are the opportunities in the department.
“Larry Dooley (retired bioengineering chair and Clemson vice president of research) was a big mentor of mine,” LaBerge said. “He always saw positive, he always saw growth, he always saw big. I’m the kind of person who does not like to sit down. I like big things to look after. So, I think Larry was very instrumental with this.”
LaBerge has held numerous leadership positions in professional organizations, including president of the Society of Biomaterials, member of the Biomedical Engineering Society Board of Directors and chair of the Council of Chairs of Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering in the U.S. and Canada.
In Clemson, her leadership positions included seven months in 2013 as acting dean of what was then the College of Engineering and Science, before the current dean, Anand Gramopadhye took the helm.
“Dr. LaBerge’s passion inspires students, faculty and staff to aspire to greater heights, learn more and achieve to the best of their abilities,” Gramopadhye said. “The Department of Bioengineering is thriving under her leadership. Further, she has exhibited leadership in key professional organizations, helping enhance Clemson’s national reputation in bioengineering. I congratulate her on the Herbert Voigt Distinguished Service Award. It is richly deserved.”
Two SC organizations have launched a new investment fund designed to boost health care innovation see more
GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Two leading South Carolina organizations have launched a new investment fund designed to boost health care innovation in the state. The Clemson University Division of Research and the Health Sciences Center (HSC) at Prisma Health recently signed agreements to fund up to $200,000 per year in grants through the new Innovation Maturation Fund.
The health care-focused grants are intended to advance the development and implementation of new medical initiatives, advance translational science, create job and educational opportunities, improve health care and drive economic growth in the region.
“This is an important step to support health sciences research in our state,” said David Sudduth, vice president and chief operating officer of the Health Sciences Center at Prisma Health. “While we have a strong history of academic, research and innovation partnership in the Upstate through the Health Sciences Center, this is the first of what we hope will be many grant-making opportunities designed with our academic partners in order to support our community.”
“Pairing Clemson University’s health research and bioengineering capabilities with Prisma Health’s industry-leading clinical environment provides an incredible opportunity for the development of medical technologies and initiatives that will improve health care for South Carolinians and many others,” said Tanju Karanfil, Clemson University vice president for research. “I am excited to see the ideas and impactful innovations that stem from this partnership.”
The fund will be managed by the Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF), which manages the process of moving Clemson’s hundreds of innovative technologies from the laboratory into commercial markets. CURF has awarded more than $870,000 in maturation funds to Clemson researchers across academic disciplines since the launch of a similar fund in 2014. Those funds have led to startup companies, new technologies available for license and follow-on research investments.
The new Innovation Maturation Fund — launched in cooperation with the HSC and Prisma Health — is the first such fund targeted exclusively toward researchers in the health sciences.
“We look forward to working with Prisma Health to leverage this fund to advance promising medical technologies from ideation through initial phases of translational product development,” said Chris Gesswein, executive director of CURF. “By identifying and targeting unmet clinical needs early in the research process, we have a wonderful opportunity to impact successful downstream commercialization of technologies developed and matured through this Innovation Maturation Fund.”
Prisma Health clinicians, Clemson research faculty and graduate students are eligible for grant funds. Applications for the first round of grants will be accepted this fall. For more information, click here.
Innovation Maturation Fund Partners
The Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF) is an independent 501(c)3 organization and was created to support the Clemson University research enterprise, guiding Clemson researchers through the technology transfer process by identifying, protecting, and developing university intellectual property. CURF is committed to creating a sustainable model for research by connecting Clemson researchers to external organizations and identifying opportunities for research collaboration to feed back into Clemson University.
The Health Sciences Center at Prisma Health is a collaboration between Prisma Health, Clemson University, Furman University and University of South Carolina. Located on the Greenville Memorial Medical Campus, this nationally recognized center seeks to bridge the gap between academics, research, clinical practice and health care transformation in a way that is innovative, inter-institutional, interprofessional and interdisciplinary. Regional community, education and business leaders also participate in the Health Sciences Center’s shared governance.
Prisma Health, a not-for-profit health company, is committed to excellence in patient care, clinical research and teaching the next generation of medical professionals. Our organization – South Carolina’s largest private employer – was formed when Greenville Health System and Palmetto Health joined together in late 2017, officially becoming Prisma Health in January 2019. With 32,000 team members (including volunteers), 18 hospitals and over 300 physician practice sites, we serve more than 1.2 million patients annually – about a quarter of the state’s population. Our goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care. Our cardiovascular, neuroscience, OB/GYN, oncology and orthopedic programs attract patients throughout the region. Also noteworthy are our two renowned children’s hospitals, comprehensive diabetes care and extensive primary care network. Ultimately, we are dedicated to transforming the health care experience for our patients and families, our team members and guests by bringing our purpose to life: Inspire health. Serve with compassion. Be the difference. Learn more at PrismaHealth.org.
Nephron, Clemson partner to meet hospital needs see more
Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation is partnering with Clemson University to create a robotic solution for syringe-filling automation to enhance sterile manufacturing in the pharmaceutical production process and keep up with growing hospital demands.
“We are excited about our new partnership with Clemson and we cannot wait to get started,” said Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy. “Working together with Clemson’s world-class researchers and engineers we can ensure that the pharmaceutical manufacturing process remains safe and we can deliver life-saving drugs to patients and hospitals across the country.”
The university’s newest strategic partner is turning to Clemson to harness the power of technology for more efficient processes. To do so, Nephron is enlisting the expertise of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences professor and researcher Yue “Sophie” Wang and mechanical engineering doctoral student Brandon Delspina and mechanical engineering master’s student Yu “Gloria” Zhang.
Their robotics research for syringe automation will support the Nephron 503B Outsourcing Facility, a cGMP manufacturer providing sterile, pre-filled medications to address persistent drug shortages in hospitals and medical facilities across America.
Based in West Columbia, Nephron is a certified woman-owned business and one of the fastest-growing companies in South Carolina. This is Nephron’s first partnership with the university and was developed through External Affairs’ Office of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives at Clemson University.
“When the External Affairs’ Office of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives approached us about this project we were excited to get involved,” said Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering. “Our work in robotics can have a tremendous impact on individuals across the country and we are looking forward to working on this because of its benefits for the many patients Nephron serves.”
“Industry needs are changing at a rapid rate and Clemson is equipped to support companies like Nephron. Together, we have created a mutually beneficial project to enhance their capabilities while providing the university’s students with unique, hands-on research experience,” said Angie Leidinger, vice president for External Affairs. “This partnership is a testament to the work happening at Clemson and we’re looking forward to this collaboration, which will advance their business and benefit South Carolinians.”
Clemson, Prisma health professionals working to develop early cancer screening test see more
When her younger brother was diagnosed with cancer, Clemson bioengineering professor Terri Bruce re solved to tap her knowledge of human cells to find a way to help others suffering from the dis ease. After devouring all the scientific literature she could, she chose to focus on developing a screening test to detect the disease in its earliest stages when it has a better chance of being cured.
“It was a time in my life when I felt helpless,” she told The Greenville News.
“And I felt there’s got to be something I can do — even if I can’t help Greg — to help other people.”
Because he suffered from brain cancer, she looked to another form of the disease that wasn’t as emotionally entangled but had no early screening tests. She decided on ovarian cancer.
Now Bruce and her research team are on the brink of a test that they believe could be a screening tool — not only for ovarian cancer, but other cancers too.
“The hope,” she said, “is to ... catch this deadly cancer much earlier and give women a fighting chance.”
Ovarian cancer will strike 22,530 women this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 14,000 will die of the disease.
But only about one in five cases is discovered early because there are no reliable screening tests, the society reports.
A late diagnosis reduces survival. And because the symptoms are so vague, about three quarters of all women are diagnosed at a late stage, said Dr. Larry Puls, the director of gynecologic oncology at Prisma Health Cancer Institute.
Only 10% to 15% of them will survive long-term. And overall survival numbers haven’t changed much in 40 years, he said.
Though blood work can test for a protein that can identify some ovarian cancers, only half of stage 1 patients test positive for it, Puls said.
“One of the things that has eluded us in ovarian cancer is that we have no screening for it,” he said. “But if you can find it when it’s confined to just the ovary alone, 90% of patients beat their cancer.
“If we could shift women out of stage 3 and into stage 1,” he added, “we can make a huge impact on this disease.”
For some time, Bruce has been studying exosomes, which are microscopic droplets found in body fluids that were traditionally regarded as a way for cells to rid themselves of debris.
But further research revealed that they contain parts of the cell they are from as well as proteins that can serve as biomarkers of what’s going on in that cell, she said.
Cancer often develops because something goes awry in the DNA, leading to aberrant proteins and tumor growth, she said. So she theorized that finding those protein signatures in exosomes could be a way to diagnose cancer.
“If we can find those aberrant protein signatures and see them on the cells and exosomes,” she said, “ ... it potentially could be used for any type of cancer, as long as you find the biomarker.”
The process has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool for other diseases as well, she said.
So Bruce approached Clemson chemistry professor Ken Marcus, who’d been separating whole human cells for years using fiber strips, and asked if he could separate exosomes.
“I said, ‘I don’t even know what they are,’ ” he recalls with a chuckle.
“But she got us some samples and in pretty short order ... we made some really good educated guesses and it worked.”
Marcus and his “very talented students” were not only able to separate the exosomes, but reduced the time needed to do it from 2 1 / 2 hours to 8 min utes using a test strip made of a polymer that is grooved much like the top of a zip lock bag.
When fluid is added, it flows down the channels where it interacts with different antibodies that in turn isolate the exosomes, he said, much the way a pregnancy test works.
Catching it early
Bruce and Marcus were then introduced to Puls, who joined the research team.
He’s collecting samples of cervical fluid containing exosomes and proteins obtained at the same time as a pap test. So far, 49 women have been tested with the strip, Puls said, and two who had no symptoms and normal blood tests were revealed to have stage 1 ovarian cancer.
“That’s the patient we covet the most because we cure 90% of those patients,” he said.
Puls also hopes the test will one day detect precancerous changes, enabling doctors to surgically remove the tissue — like they do when a pap test reveals a precancerous change — and prevent the development of cancer in the first place.
While the initial data will be crunched in the next few weeks, Puls said he’s optimistic that the test could be a promising new tool in the battle against ovarian cancer.
He hopes the test could be used to screen for uterine cancer as well, which strikes another 63,000 women a year.
The Holy Grail for the process, Marcus said, would be a urine test because it can show what’s going on inside the whole body. But the first step is testing cervical fluid in the doctor’s office.
“And even that is an infinite step up from where we are today,” he said.
Because tumors can be caused by a variety of proteins, the test will look for a bank of markers in an effort to capture more cancers, said Bruce, who is also director of Clemson’s Light Imaging Facility.
“I think we’re close on getting some kind of screening tool,” she said. “And we’re in the process now of (getting) all the patents.”
So far, the research has been privately funded, but the team plans to use their initial data to apply for federal grants to continue their work.
They estimate a test could be ready for market in about five years.
Carmen Brotherton hopes the test will be routine in her daughter and grand-daughters’ lifetimes.
The Easley woman’s ovarian cancer was discovered in 2009, making her one of the few to be diagnosed in stage 1.
“I’ve lost some good friends ... who weren’t caught in time,” said Brotherton, who volunteers with the South Carolina Ovarian Cancer Foundation.
“It’s always been one of my prayers that some day they would come up with something that would catch it,” she said.
“This is just a small place compared to the U.S. or the rest of the world. Imagine how many women this could catch. And it might save their lives.”
When Bruce’s brother was diagnosed in 2012, little could be done to stop the progress of the cancer, she said. He died in January, leaving his two sons fatherless.
Now she hopes the test will one day mean that fewer people will be left without a parent like her nephews.
“In conjunction with the discovery of distinct biomarkers, the fibers could lead to finding diseases such as ovarian cancer — and brain cancer — much earlier,” she said.
“Early enough, I hope, to save many lives in the future.”