Faculty Senate Cancels December Meeting

The Faculty Senate has cancelled its meeting scheduled for Wednesday, December 9. The next Senate meeting will take place in January.  For more details visit www.miami.edu/fs.

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Organs on Chips: Researcher Creates Human Organs that Mimic Real Ones

By Bárbara Gutiérrez
UM News

Agarwal 2

Using traditional engineering materials, stem cells harvested from rodents and humans, and 3-D printing, Ashutosh Agarwal is creating artificial human organs that mimic the real things, providing researchers with a new way to study organ function and underlying disease pathways.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 24, 2015) – Imagine a heart beating outside of the human body. Imagine that the organ acts just like the real thing but can be handled and studied like any other object. What possibilities would that create for physicians, scientists, pharmaceutical researchers, and other scholars?

Ashutosh Agarwal, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Miami, is ready to answer those questions. He is creating “Human Organs on Chips.”

In a revolutionary new approach, he combines traditional engineering structures such as metal or plastic with stem cells from rodents and humans to create a heart, pancreas, and lungs that mimic the real organ—including normal functioning and diseased organs. The chips, about the size of a USB stick or credit card, are created through 3-D printing and 3-D milling with intricate, precise measurements.

UM News spoke to Agarwal about his research. Here are some of his observations:

What excites you about this research?

Recreating human organ-level complexity in a dish, in both health and in disease, opens up several important applications. We can now test drug molecules before running clinical trials, dive deep into disease mechanisms, and create better stem cells for therapy.

What is the most important aspect of this approach?

Nobel Prize-winning American physicist and visionary Richard Feynman famously said: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” By building models of human disease on a dish, we will enhance the understanding of the underlying disease pathways. Current projects include type 1 diabetes, stage IV lung cancer, cardiac diseases, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

What kind of response has there been to your research in the past?

The significance of this research endeavor has been well recognized by federal funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, and regulatory agencies such as the FDA, and received recent interest from pharmaceutical companies. The lab has received major grant funding from the NIH. I have served on “Placenta on a Chip” workshop organized by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, “Wait What” conference organized by DARPA, as well as given a lecture at the “Futures of Cardiovascular Medicine” symposium by the American College of Cardiology (a primarily clinical conference).

Describe the process from being an idea to practicality.

We follow the engineering iterative process of Design –> Build –> Test.

Once we get interested in a disease model (typically through a clinical collaboration/announcement of a new funding initiative), we start with a physiology textbook. We study the template of how the body builds that organ and use that as a design template for our efforts in the lab.

In addition to mimicking the organ level structure, our devices allow evaluation of organ level function. We then populate these devices with cellular material sourced from human patients or stem cells. Based on the behavior of engineered tissues, we modify and optimize our devices. The last crucial step is validation by comparing our lab discoveries with clinical outputs.

Why is research in this area important (or relevant) for the average person?

Our tools will enable cheaper and faster drug development, discovery of therapies for some of the most intractable human diseases (such as type 1 diabetes, heart failure, lung cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis), and help make stem cell therapy a reality. Right now drug testing is first done on animals before it is approved for use on humans. That process is not always successful, and it is very expensive. We think we can make animal testing irrelevant.

What happens next?

The tools we are building in the lab need validation from two sources: clinicians, who are trying to understand and cure diseases, and pharmaceutical companies, who are developing new drugs. Validation from these two final ‘customers’ is the next step.

What’s the coolest thing about this development or something unexpected about it?

The interdisciplinary nature of the work. Currently, I am managing a group of folks with very different backgrounds and expertise. My postdoc has a Ph.D. in space propulsion, one of my technicians has a medical degree, and the other is a stem cell expert.

My master’s student is a chemical engineer with expertise in fluid transport physics. The three Ph.D. students are working on creating a Heart on a Chip, Diabetes on a Chip, and Pulmonary Fibrosis on a Chip. It’s a rich collaborative environment, and we learn from each other all the time!

The research is supported by the following: UM College of Engineering, Dr. John T Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at UM (BioNIUM); National Institutes of Health (Diabetes on a Chip); BioNIUM Research Award (Lung Cancer on a Chip), and UM-FIU Nanotechnology Award (Heart on a Chip).

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Support the U on Giving Tuesday, December 1

givingtuesdayEvery Giving Tuesday, people from across the globe celebrate the generosity of the holiday season by supporting their favorite nonprofits. Show your ‘Cane pride by supporting the U this Giving Tuesday, which falls on December 1.

At UM, Giving Tuesday kicks off #CanesGiving and celebrates the generosity of  ’Canes who give thanks to their alma mater. View two videos (Part 1Part 2) to hear students share why they are thankful and how they give back to the community. Help the U make this Giving Tuesday the best ever by making a gift of any amount on Tuesday, December 1.


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DCC With Me: UM Cyclist Loves the ‘Amazing Feeling’ of Crossing the Finish Line

Special to UM News

Lisa Siegel

Lisa Siegel

Lisa Siegel says cycling across the finish line at the Dolphins Cancer Challenge is an amazing feeling. “When I get off my bike, cancer patients and survivors come up and hug me with tears in their eyes, thanking us for our support,” says Siegel. “If you are a University employee, I urge you to help our community by raising funds for our Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and DCC with me!”

A grants accountant with the Office of Research Administration, Siegel is passionate about helping people with cancer. For the past four years, she has ridden her bicycle in honor of her grandmother, who died from the disease, and her aunt, who is a cancer survivor. “Cancer affects everyone, and our researchers at Sylvester are making tremendous strides,” she says.

A native of Miami, Siegel grew up in a loyal Hurricanes family. Her father, Marvin, began working at the University in 1961 and led the UM United Way campaign for many years. Her brother, Scott, and sister, Aimee, are also University employees and will be joining Lisa and her co-workers on Team Hurricanes in the DCC on Saturday, February 20 at Sun Life Stadium.

At the sixth annual DCC, Siegel plans to complete a 72-mile ride in honor of the Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season. Other options include different cycling routes, a 5K walk and run, and participating as a “virtual rider.” All funds raised by the DCC support Sylvester’s cancer research.

A longtime fan of the ’Canes and the Miami Dolphins, Siegel lets everyone know she’s a proud supporter of the DCC. “I talk to people on campus, on the phone, and online and let them know the importance of supporting our cancer research,” she says. “Every Friday I wear a Dolphins or Sylvester jersey to create more awareness of this great event. I encourage our employees to sign up for the DCC and reach out to others. You will be surprised by the generosity of your family, friends, and co-workers. All you have to do is ask!”

To learn more, please visit Dolphins Cancer Challenge.

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Sexual Assault Resource Team Seeks Volunteer Advocates

The UM Counseling Center’s Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) is seeking dedicated, warm, and empathic faculty, staff, and graduate student volunteers to serve as advocates during the 2016 calendar year. SART, which has supported sexual assault survivors and concerned others since 1992, is often the first line of response for UM students who have been sexually assaulted, molested, or battered.

SART advocates provide hotline callers with much-needed emotional support, information, referrals, and assistance in accessing resources when appropriate. They receive comprehensive training in taking calls from students in a variety of sexual assault-related situations, orientation to UM’s varied resources for those who have been sexually victimized, and ongoing support from licensed mental health professionals at the Counseling Center.

If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please contact Audrey Cleary or  Carolyn Eberhardt at the Counseling Center at 305-284-5511.

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