Genetic Center a key initiative at Clemson University see more
The sequencing of the human genome in 2000 gave rise to the vision of personalized medicine. Realizing the importance of this landmark achievement, Clemson University established Human Genetics as a major pillar of its long-term strategic ScienceForward plan. This vision was realized in 2016 with philanthropic support of Self Regional Healthcare and the Self Family Foundation, leading to the construction of Self Regional Hall on the Partnership Innovation campus of the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC).
Self Regional Hall is a 17,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility designed to provide a collaborative environment that is conducive to spontaneous interactions among students and faculty. The Clemson Center for Human Genetics was formally inaugurated in the facility on August 8, 2018.
In the short period of three years, the Center for Human Genetics has flourished under the leadership of its inaugural director, Dr. Trudy Mackay.
The Center started with two faculty — Dr. Mackay and spouse and long-term collaborator, Dr. Robert Anholt — two staff scientists, and two doctoral students. With strong support from Clemson University, the Center recruited four assistant professors from Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This enabled the Center to expand rapidly to six faculty and a cohort of 16 graduate students on the Greenwood campus and eight affiliated members on the main campus of Clemson University.
In 2021, the Clemson University Center for Human Genetics, in collaboration with the GGC, received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for over $13.5 million total cost to establish a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Human Genetics to promote the professional development of young investigators.The Center’s Goals for Genetic Research
The goals of the Clemson Center are two-fold:
1. to leverage comprehensive systems genetic approaches and comparative genomics to elucidate fundamental principles of the genetic underpinnings of human complex traits, including disease risk.
2. to promote precision medicine by developing advanced mathematical models to predict disease risk and assess therapeutic benefits based on genetic and environmental factors.
To enable these activities, the Center has established the most advanced genomics facility in South Carolina with capabilities for short- and long-read DNA sequencing as well as analyses of gene expression networks in single cells. The Center also contains a microscopy facility, a bioinformatics facility, and its own high performance computing cluster for analyses of large datasets.
Faculty in the Center use comparative genomics approaches to gain insights in human disorders. Such approaches include studies on the fruitfly (Drosophila) model, which enables sophisticated genetic experimentation, zebrafish (in collaboration with the GGC), which is a powerful model for developmental genetics, and human cell lines. These systems have complementary advantages, so combined insights from studies on these systems can be applied to patients and human populations.
Studies in the Center focus on substance use disorders — including cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol — cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. Most genetic studies to date have focused on genes that code for proteins, structural components of our cells and enzymes that catalyze reactions that sustain intermediary metabolism and the formation of macromolecules, such as our DNA.
However, protein coding genes comprise only ~2% of the human genome and there is a growing realization that non-protein coding elements of the genome play an important role in gene regulation in health and disease. Thus, a major focus of the Center’s studies is dedicated to elucidating the contributions of noncoding elements of the genome to disease manifestation. Another major focus of faculty in the Center is to develop computational methods to predict disease susceptibility based on genetic and environmental information, a critical prerequisite for personalized medicine. The Center also interacts closely with the GGC to obtain insights in the pathology of rare pediatric diseases.
The Clemson Center for Human Genetics seeks to develop local, regional, national, and international collaborations to advance human genetics and is currently part of a large international consortium funded by the European Commission to study the genetics of susceptibility to environmental toxins. As part of a major research university, the Center is also strongly committed to educating the next generation of human geneticists by providing educational opportunities for high school students, their teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists, and to promote public understanding of human genetics through community outreach.
Issues over $3 million in funds to colleges, universities see more
SCRA has announced the funding of over $3.3 million to selected colleges and universities for translational research projects to address key challenges facing the state’s industrial base. SCRA’s funding is being matched by the academic institutions and industry partners, bringing the total amount of the projects to over $6.7 million.
The projects are being funded through the SCRA-Academia Collaboration Team (SACT) program. The goal of the SACT is to connect industry with multi-institutional academic teams and build bridges among the institutions to foster engagement and advance technologies, many of which will enter the marketplace and lead to the creation of South Carolina-based jobs.
- $1.8 million was awarded to Clemson University to modernize South Carolina’s manufacturing assets to enable Industry 4.0 (the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology). Clemson is partnering with the University of South Carolina, the Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University, Greenville Technical College, and Trident Technical College.
- $1.2 million was awarded to the University of South Carolina to enable factory-to-factory networking for the future of manufacturing operations. The University is partnering with Clemson University, Greenville Technical College, and Midlands Technical College.
- $305,000 was awarded to Francis Marion University to improve workforce readiness and capabilities in South Carolina. The University is partnering with The Citadel.
“I’m energized by the opportunities and positive outcomes from this intersection of academic research, entrepreneurship, and industry in the state. These collaborations provide the greatest potential for innovation, economic growth, and overall advancement of the region,” said Kella Player, SCRA Program Manager.
SCRA’s program directors and industry advisors will review the progress on these SACT research projects on an ongoing basis. Funds will be provided in stages as milestones are met.
“We are fortunate to have high-quality research and development being conducted at our state’s colleges and universities. Many of the technologies on which they are working today will produce the new companies of tomorrow. It’s a honor for SCRA to support these collaborations,” said Bob Quinn, SCRA Executive Director.
Since 2018, SACT grants have funded 17 collaborations among South Carolina-based academic institutions and 41 industry partners. These projects have produced an 8:1 multiple in additional funding from other sources such as industry and the federal government.
SCRA grants are funded in part by the Industry Partnership Fund (IPF). IPF contributors are South Carolina businesses and individuals who receive a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for investing in the state’s innovation economy.
More than 43,500 women are expected to die from breast cancer in 2021 see more
A Clemson University study could lead to new immunotherapy for breast cancer. The study, according to the university, provides the foundation of using cells in our bodies to target cancer cells.
Clemson researchers have used the immune system’s natural killer cells — which the body uses to fight off certain types of infections — to go after the breast cancer cells by bridging the two cells with a fusion of proteins the researchers developed.
“The idea is to use this bifunctional protein to bridge the natural killer cells and breast cancer tumor cells,” said Yanzhang “Charlie” Wei, a professor in the College of Science’s Department of Biological Sciences. “If the two cells are brought close enough together through this receptor ligand connection, the natural killer cells can release what I call killing machinery to have the tumor cells killed.”
Breast cancer kills 43,000 women each year in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society and one in eight women and one in 1,000 men will develop invasive breast cancer.
“Very simply, cancer is uncontrolled cell growth. Some cells will become abnormal and have the potential to become cancer,” Wei explained. “The immune system can recognize these abnormal cells and destroy them before they become cancer cells. Unfortunately for those who develop cancer, the immune system is not working very well because of gene mutations and environmental factors. The result is that the cancer cells won the fight between the immune system and the tumors.”
Clemson’s researchers focused on triple-negative breast cancer, the most lethal type of breast cancer, and prolactin receptors.
Greenwood's Kay Self leading efforts to advance Greenwood community see more
The lack of reliable broadband service in parts of Greenwood became more apparent than ever this past year when schools and businesses quickly migrated to remote platforms with minimal time for in-depth planning, let alone infrastructure upgrades. Fortunately, help is on the horizon from VisionGreenwood, an established community partner dedicated to making Greenwood the best place in which to live, work and raise a family.
Kay Self, Executive Director for VisionGreenwood, explained that the recently launched “Closing the Gap” Speed Test, which was developed by the nonprofit through a public-private collaboration, will be used to collect real-time internet speed data from Greenwood residents over the next four to six weeks. With data in hand, VisionGreenwood will be able to apply for state and federal grants to help fund local internet infrastructure improvements.
“High-speed internet is no longer optional. It is critical for expanding educational and economic opportunities, especially for those in remote locations. By ensuring every Greenwood resident and business has access to broadband, we are positioning our community for success,” said Self.
JIm Pfeiffer, VisionGreenwood’s Board Chairman and Self Regional Healthcare President and CEO, noted “For more than a year now, we’ve seen first-hand just how important broadband internet is to our students, to remote work, and to telemedicine availability. In response, VisionGreenwood developed a Broadband Task Force to make sure Greenwood stays ahead of the curve in this area. The goal is to expand broadband internet connectivity throughout the entire county.”
Pfeiffer went on to say, “By mid-August, the Greenwood Broadband Task Force should have the necessary data to pinpoint areas that are in most need of reliable, affordable access to broadband service.”
While the name VisionGreenwood may be new to Greenwood County and the Upstate, the 501(c)(3) organization is simply reintroducing itself. In fact, the newly rebranded organization has a rich history in Greenwood. VisionGreenwood evolved from the Foundation for a Greater Greenwood County, Inc., which was created more than 20 years ago to support the former Greenwood Partnership Alliance’s charitable operations with a focus on community and workforce development. Since its inception, the non-profit has invested more than $2.9 million into the community by supporting initiatives that provide economic prosperity and enhance the growth and success of Greenwood.
“After thoughtful consideration, we decided to rebrand the foundation in 2021 to better reflect our purpose. Everything we do is grounded in our strategic long-term vision. By intent and design, VisionGreenwood continues to be a community partner that is focused on Greenwood’s future and its economic growth and development,” said Self. “We are now more determined than ever to see that Greenwood emerges as one of the top living and working communities in South Carolina.”
VisionGreenwood’s Core Areas of Focus
The stated mission of VisionGreenwood is “Providing leadership to enhance the quality of life in Greenwood through strategic long-term vision and collaborative community development initiatives.” To carry out its mission, VisionGreenwood’s Board has identified core areas of focus for development of the Greenwood community: Technology and Innovation, Education, City and Retail Development, Life Sciences and Biotechnology, and Medical Innovation District. Each area of focus has its own distinct initiatives.
In addition to the expansion of broadband coverage, another notable initiative launched this year is “The Brew,” described by Self as an “ecosystem” for locals to find resources and gain support for their businesses and trades. “The Brew is really where VisionGreenwood sees Greenwood’s collective creativity and its community collaborations collide,” said Self.
Part of a larger Upstate program developed to promote job growth through entrepreneurism, The Brew provides a venue for entrepreneurs, start-up businesses, and craftsmen to get community feedback about their business plans, challenges, and accomplishments. VisionGreenwood launched the Greenwood Chapter of “The Brew” in collaboration with Uptown Greenwood and the Greenwood Area Small Business Development Center.
“It takes a concerted effort to sustain new business ideas, so we explored effective programs in place throughout the state. We are pleased to be a part of the Regional Brew Program that successfully brings economic successes to communities in Anderson, Greenville, Greer and Spartanburg, and now Greenwood,” said Self.
Central to VisionGreenwood’s work is helping strategic partnerships continue to flourish. Perhaps Greenwood’s biggest claim to fame is its international reputation as a hub for innovation in the field of medical genetics.
“The Greenwood Genetic Center, together with the Clemson University Center for Human Genetics, is among the greatest strengths and most unique assets in our community. VisionGreenwood is proud to be associated with the ongoing development of the Greenwood Genetic Center Partnership Campus,” said Self, who serves on the Board of SCBIO, the statewide, not-for-profit, public/private life sciences industry association and economic development organization formed to actively promote, build, support, expand, and convene South Carolina’s life sciences industry.
“Quality of life is the cornerstone of VisionGreenwood’s plan of work,” said Self. “We are committed to supporting the development of neighborhoods that provide entertainment, shopping, and dining, along with quality healthcare, world-class education, and employment – all necessary attributes for a thriving community.”
Pfeiffer added, “Above all, VisionGreenwood exists to make Greenwood a community of choice — one where people want to come and want to stay, whether young professionals or retirees.”
In June 2021, VisionGreenwood rolled out a refreshed website showcasing the many ways in which the organization is working to better the community. To learn more, visit www.VisionGreenwood.org and be sure to follow @VisionGreenwoodSC on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
About Vision Greenwood
VisionGreenwood is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with deep roots in the Greenwood community. Throughout the past 20 years, VisionGreenwood (formerly known as the Foundation for a Greater Greenwood County, Inc.) has invested over $2.9 million into the community by supporting collaborative community development initiatives that provide economic prosperity and enhance the growth and success of Greenwood. The Foundation was originally created to support the former Greenwood Partnership Alliance’s charitable operations with a focus on community and workforce development. The Foundation became a stand-alone organization in 2020 and was rebranded as VisionGreenwood in 2021. By intent and design, VisionGreenwood continues to be a community partner that is focused on Greenwood’s future, its economic growth and development, and its quality of life.
Largest donation ever granted to university’s College of Science see more
Clemson graduate Emily Peek Wallace is giving back to her alma mater through the largest donation ever granted to the university’s College of Science: $1.25 million for an endowed directorship.
An endowed faculty position allows Clemson to retain top talent, according to a news release.
As the first endowed faculty position at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the Emily Peek Wallace ’72 Endowed Directorship provides support for the school director and supports additional initiatives throughout the school.
“I wanted to do something to help the faculty,” Wallace said in the release. “Everybody has had to shift their teaching and learning methods due to COVID-19, and the faculty has additional challenges to make sure students are not getting behind and that they’re learning what they need to be learning. I wanted to provide encouragement and funding to help them, add additional facilities to help students stay current.”
The purpose of the endowment focuses on increasing student engagement and success, as well as enhancing the relevance of the curriculum for the next generation of mathematicians, statisticians and data scientists.
The support includes tutoring assistance for students who may be struggling academically or to help students who may have fallen behind due to unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, the funding will help establish business connections and internships for students who wish to enter the job force instead of going into academic research, and will make training with current statistical software and other resources available for students regardless of future tracks, according to the release.
“With gifts such as this one from Emily, our donors help position Clemson as a destination for the finest academic leaders to develop innovative curriculums benefitting our students and equipping them with the skills needed for what is to come,” Brian O’Rourke, vice president for development and alumni relations at Clemson, said in the release. “Our donors are investing in the future — not just in Clemson and our students, but also in the industries our students will influence. We can’t thank them enough for their assistance and generosity.”
Wallace was the first woman to serve as a top leader of the university’s WSBF radio station and was named to Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. She was often the sole woman — or one of only two — in her technical courses. A first generation college graduate, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1971.
In 2014, she established the Emily Peek Wallace ’72 Scholarship Endowment for STEM, which provides financial assistance for underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to the release. This academic year, 25 students will benefit from the Wallace scholarships. In addition to the two endowments, she also serves on the Clemson University Foundation Board of Directors and as a founding member of the Order of the Oak.
Wallace and her husband Jack were among the first 100 employees to join the Statistical Analysis System Institute in 1981. Headquartered in Cary, N.C., SAS is a global software company, which has also provided support to Clemson through software.
Currently, she oversees a team of 50 people as the senior director of the Knowledge Management Center at SAS.
“I am so honored to have met such special people within the Clemson family, like Emily Wallace,” Cynthia Young, dean of the College of Science, said in the release. “She was and remains a pioneer at SAS, paved the way and created opportunity for so many, including our Clemson students. Under the leadership of the Emily Peek Wallace ’72 Director, our outstanding faculty and staff will honor her legacy with their new discoveries, innovation, and in how they are preparing the next generation of leading mathematicians, statisticians and data scientists.”
Arthrex, Clemson work to resolve workforce pipeline needs see more
As the biomedical industry continues to expand in South Carolina, so does Arthrex’s need for a specialized workforce.
Arthrex, a company engaged in the research, design and manufacture of minimally invasive surgical technology, announced in 2017 plans for its new $69 million facility and the creation of 1,000 new jobs in Sandy Springs. Kevin Grieff, Arthrex senior vice president of operations, said he expects to reach 1,000 employees by 2024.
A pair of programs with Clemson University helps bridge a divide between science and sales for the company’s future workforce.
Students like T.J. Biondolillo are also recognizing the need for more specialized education, especially when it comes to blending science and business.
“Both of the programs have helped my education immensely,” Biondolillo, a senior majoring in biological sciences, said in a news release. “As a biology student, who for the first two years of college had the goal of one day attending dental school, until I shadowed a neighbor who does medical device sales, I had pretty much no selling experience.”
Soon after the expansion announcement, Arthrex approached Clemson University with an educational partnership opportunity to help students develop the interdisciplinary skills to position them for success in the fast-growing orthopedic medical device field. The result was an educational pilot program designed with the needs of the global medical device industry in mind.
Arthrex has since expanded its partnership with Clemson, which is just 10 miles from the Sandy Springs location.
Working with the academic leaders and the Clemson University Office of Corporate Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives, the company has created scholarships and two certificate programs.
“Arthrex takes great pride in its commitment to education and we are pleased to help develop the next generation of highly skilled professionals like Arthrex technology consultants who work with orthopedic surgeons to provide trustworthy technical product support,” Arthrex President and founder Reinhold Schmieding said in the release.
The Sales Innovation Certificate Program and Orthopedic Medical Device Product Specialist certificate programs are designed to enable students from any major to explore medical device technology consulting. Through the programs, students gain knowledge of medical devices and techniques, and gain an introduction to the sales and marketing aspects of medical products. The programs are intended to create a strong pipeline to help support Arthrex’s growing needs in this area, according to the release.
More than 10 students in the Sales Innovation Certificate Program have been hired by Arthrex in the last two years.
“Through the strategic partnership with Arthrex, we have worked together to develop one-of-a-kind workforce development programs to support an integral partner need,” Angie Leidinger, vice president of external affairs for Clemson, said in the release. “The success of the pilot programs has showcased the talent of our faculty and students, and we’re excited about the opportunity to continue engaging with Arthrex in mutually beneficial ways that will strengthen educational outcomes while providing them with top-tier talent.”
After learning about the certificate program, Biondolillo said he jumped at the opportunity to gain the targeted knowledge in medical device sales.
“The Sales Innovation Program has improved my selling skills and taught me the principles of being a great salesperson and the Orthopedic Device Product Specialist Program has improved my product knowledge from materials used in devices to diagnosing issues and being able to properly convey product benefits,” he said in the release.
The Sales Innovation Program coursework is tailored to develop students’ business acumen, selling frameworks and presentation ability in order to equip them for roles in health care and medical device sales or related positions. Through the program, students also take part in real-world challenges, foundational role-play exercises and leadership opportunities, the release said.
The Orthopedic Medical Device Product Specialist Certificate provides students with core competencies in the orthopedic medical device industry with a focus on managing a product throughout its life cycle, including product development and performance relevant to clinical use, and communication of its commercial value.
In addition to the certificate programs that provide students a pathway to learning about medical device sales, the Arthrex Scholars program provides scholarships to those same students, according to the release.
Arthrex Scholars was announced in 2019 as a two-year pilot program, with the first scholarships awarded in 2020. Fifteen students pursuing medical device sales careers will receive $5,000 scholarships and a potential summer internship.
“Under the direction of Ryan Mullins, our Sales Innovation Program has shown an ability to connect students with companies like Arthrex that can potentially lead to sales careers with those organizations,” Jennifer Siemens, department of marketing chair, said in the release. “Arthrex’s investment as an innovation partner in our Sales Innovation Program helps students financially and potentially creates a pipeline to our best and brightest as their next generation of employees.”
Managed by the Department of Marketing and the Sales Innovation Program team, applications open during the fall semester and are awarded the following spring semester.
Arthrex also works with Clemson on several research projects, including a NanoScopeTM Surgical Imaging System reprocessing assessment with bioengineering associate professor Melinda Harma, according to the release.
SCBIO, business community shaping curriculato grow life sciences careers see more
Compliments of GSA Business and SCBIZ
South Carolina’s life science sector creates twice as many jobs as the average of all other sectors in the state economy, according to a recent study, but whether it can fill those positions is another matter — especially in the manufacturing and logistics side of the house.
The life science fields are struggling to fill positions in the fast-growing sector. (Photo/Provided)
“It has historically been the majority of the time that you find a qualified person, they already have a job in M&L (manufacturing and logistics), so it has really been tough to fill the need,” said Josh Turner, a sales executive for Modjoul, a health-focused data analytics company that serves the manufacturing sector. Turner is also a former staffing professional.
He added that staffing companies pre-pandemic were filling positions with available people even if they weren’t trained or had any experience in the field.
“All I’ve heard since the pandemic is [that] it has been hard to even find available people, much less available and qualified people,” he said.
This gap is even more prominent in a life science field that sometimes requires more than the standard specialization or training. And to add insult to injury, few in-school training programs target this unique brand of manufacturing and logistics, said SCBIO interim CEO Erin Ford.
“The life sciences encompasses so many aspects from medical devices to pharmaceutical research and development to logistics in getting the drugs or pharmaceuticals or medical devices to where they need to be,” she said. “There's just so many aspects to the life sciences. And we really, as a state, have not focused on having any specific curriculum or programs that are specialized in this area.”
She argued that while the traditional medical careers such as nursing fall under the Life Science umbrella, industrial aspects of the sector often get overlooked in the classroom.
“It’s just not even a part of the discussion as to what career you want to have,” Ford said.
Arthrex and Tri-County Tech have had an existing apprenticeship partnership since 2020. (Photo/Provided)
Since the economic development organization formed its Workforce Development Taskforce a few years ago, its more than 300 members have aimed to do something about that.
She hopes that 2021 (or early 2022) will be the year she can see their work come to fruition through a curriculum pilot geared toward two-year students in South Carolina’s technical college network.
Students upon learning about the field may often feel intimidated by the math or science components attached to a traditional science, technology, engineering and math field, she said, but really it’s the requirements of working in a clean room in the medical device field that can prove to be the most challenging.
And that is the gap Ford hopes the program will fill.
So far, Tri-County Technical College, Trident Technical College, Greenville Technical College and Midlands Technical College have signed on to the pilot, she said, which covers a track for pharmaceutical or biotech professionals and those seeking a career in the medical device field.
“We don't want to reinvent the wheel,” Ford said. “That's why we're working with a lot of the partners to add in more substance for life sciences. So if we see that there is more for us to do, we will definitely take that on.”
Life science companies in each region have already offered up some input to their needs and will continue to do so once the program launches: Trident Technical College has its ear to the ground for workforce demands of Alcami, Charles River Labs and Vikor Scientific while Tri-County Technical College is partnering with Arthrex, Abbott Laboratories and Poly-Med. Midlands Tech has an open channel to the demands of medical device companies Rhythmlink and Nephron Pharmaceuticals.
“You’ve seen the map, right? Of the 700 life science companies? The kids just don’t know,” she told GSA Business Report, adding that it’s the job of SCBIO and its partners to share the story of the state’s abundance of life science firms and manufacturers.
Medical device manufacturer Poly-med CEO Dave Shalaby said his company usually hires Clemson University graduates and has a strong in-house program, but now that the hiring climate has become so competitive in the Upstate, he has started to advise Tri-County Tech on courses that would expose students to the industry’s ISO 1345 standards and documentation.
“And really surprisingly, it's not really geared toward the sciences as much as it's geared toward control, like how to control processes and design, and also there's a lot of statistics involved with showing proof that you're adhering to specific specifications that you've set,” Shalaby said. “So basically the course outline that we set up with Tri-County is to give them exposure to those sorts of things.”
Tri-County instructors will teach company and industry requirements, he said, and help create a workforce pipeline to Poly-med, Arthrex and Abbott.
“Tri-County is developing that curriculum now,” he said. “They’ve got sort of a draft in place, and it’s got to come back out for everybody to take a look at it and see if it makes sense to create the course.”
The course would help prime students for employment at partnering industries like Poly-med, and Ford foresees a potential apprenticeship route on a case-by-case basis. SCBIO has been in conversation with Apprenticeship Carolina’s Carla Whitlock on those possibilities.
In the meantime, Ford encouraged other industry voices interested in contributing to the program through input or partnership to get in touch and jump on board.
“Reach out to us,” she said. “Reach out to me and SCBIO, because the more industry that we can have involved in these programs, the more successful it will be.”
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.”