Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Materials science student wins Acta Student Award

Heemin Kang
Heemin Kang, a materials science graduate student at UC San Diego, has received an Acta Student Award. Kang is among 11 awardees who were selected for their contributions to papers published in Acta journals in 2014. Each award comes with a $2,000 cash prize and will be presented during an awards ceremony on Oct. 5 at the Materials Science & Technology meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Kang was selected to receive the award for his work on biomimetic materials that induce stem cells to become bone-building cells. The research, led by bioengineering professor Shyni Varghese, was reported in the manuscript titled, “Mineralized gelatin methacrylate-based matrices induce osteogenic differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells,” which was published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia in Aug. 2014. Kang was the first author on this paper.

In this work, Kang and co-workers in Varghese’s Bio-Inspired Materials and Stem Cell Engineering Lab engineered matrices consisting of calcium phosphate minerals. Stem cells that were grown on these biomineralized materials transformed into cells that can build new bone.

“These engineered materials, coupled with stem cells, can be used to treat patients with critical bone defects and traumatic bone fractures,” said Kang. “This work is an exciting step towards accelerating stem-cell-based regenerative therapies.”

Left: Image of engineered bone-mimetic material containing calcium phosphate minerals. Right: Image of bone cells derived from the conversion of human induced pluripotent stem cells by the engineered mineralized material. Osteocalcin, a protein that can be solely produced by bone-forming cells, is shown in green.
Moreover, these materials are able to convert stem cells into bone-building cells in the absence of any bone-stimulating proteins or biochemicals. “Our study is the first to demonstrate a simple way to induce pluripotent stem cell differentiation, both in vitro and in vivo, using only these engineered biomaterials,” said Kang.

Kang’s interest in regenerative medicine was inspired by his time serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, where he encountered many injured soldiers. His aim is to become a professor and continue developing biomaterial-based regenerative therapies that can be used to treat injured soldiers and other patients suffering from bone defects and disorders.

Read more about related work in Varghese’s lab here.

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