Northwestern Manufacturing Partnership Pushing Boundaries of Tissue Engineering

University joins ARMI|BioFabUSA ecosystem created to realize large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues

By Roger AndersonDecember 4, 2018

Northwestern University Research Institutes and Centers sit at the intersections of traditional disciplines to increase the innovation, productivity, and cross-fertilization needed to solve great societal challenges.

Now, two of Northwestern’s knowledge hubs are joining forces with the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI)|BioFabUSA, a public-private network of leading manufacturers, universities, nonprofit organizations and the federal government looking to develop scalable manufacturing processes for engineered tissues and organs.

One of the biggest challenges with current transplantation approaches is that physicians are almost always using a foreign organ, meaning there is a real and very serious challenge with potential rejection. Researchers home to be able to grow new organs using a patient’s own cells to side-step rejection altogether. Another approach has investigators working to find a way to manufacture tissues that have rejection-prevention engineered into them.

Northwestern’s engagement with the ARMI initiative comes under the guidance of the Simpson Querrey Institute (SQI) and the Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation (NIMSI). SQI Director Samuel Stupp, NIMSI Director and Associate Vice President for Research Jian Cao, and SQI member and Associate Professor of Surgery Jason Wertheim are leading the effort.

“The Simpson Querrey Institute (home to the Louis A. Simpson and Kimberley Querrey Center for Regenerative Nanomedicine) has been focused on the development of biomaterials and technologies for regenerative medicine for nearly 20 years. We have a great deal to offer to the efforts at ARMI|BioFabUSA and hope to use the connections and energy to help identify future research needs,” says Stupp, Board of Trustees Professor of Materials Science and Chemistry, Medicine, and Biomedical Engineering. Stupp is a world-recognized leader in the development of bioactive biomaterials for regenerative medicine of the brain, spinal cord, heart, bone, cartilage, and muscle.

Significant breakthroughs in cell biology, biofabrication, and materials science in the past decade have laid the foundation for large-scale manufacturing and commercialization of engineered tissues and tissue-related technologies.

“Manufacturing is an integration platform and economic driving force. Having a strong and diverse manufacturing base requires knowledge and collaborations from different fields,” says Cao, the Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering and an expert in innovative manufacturing processes and systems. “NIMSI was established to meet that need and has been contributing to flexible manufacturing processes, computational manufacturing, and data science in manufacturing. With SQI and NIMSI working together, Northwestern continues to offer its expertise to advance manufacturing.”

Under the umbrella of Manufacturing USA, a public-private network that invests in the development of world-leading manufacturing technologies, the ARMI initiative and its BioFabUSA program will work to integrate and organize the fragmented collection of industry practices and domestic capabilities in tissue biofabrication technology to better position the United States relative to global competition. ARMI|BioFabUSA will also focus on accelerating regenerative tissue research and creating state-of-the-art manufacturing innovations in biomaterial and cell processing for critical Department of Defense (DoD) needs. The DoD’s investment is meant to enhance the development of techniques that may help military personnel who sustain catastrophic injuries. The capability to manufacture or regenerate tissue would also benefit the general population. 

ARMI|BioFabUSA includes more than 115 members from the industrial, academic, governmental, and non-profit sectors in support of the mission to make practical the large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues and tissue-related technologies, to benefit existing industries, and to grow new ones.

“It’s an exciting time for me as a transplant surgeon and biomedical scientist to see the technology evolve,” says Wertheim, who is a member of the National Institutes of Health’s (Re)Building-a-kidney consortium. His research group uses cell biology and bioengineering to develop liver, kidney and blood vessel tissue as a cutting-edge solution to organ shortage. “BioFabUSA is bringing together a diverse set of partners to address and solve challenging hurdles in translational regenerative medicine — and I know that I and my colleagues at SQI and Northwestern can contribute to finding those answers.”

ARMI|BioFabUSA is laying out a strategy to address many of the logistical challenges in pulling together a geographically disperse set of collaborators. The nonprofit employs former Food and Drug Administration staff with regulatory experience who consult with research experts to better understand the best path to gaining FDA approval.

“We need to develop 21st-century tools for engineered tissue manufacturing that will allow these innovations to be widely available — similar to how a 15th-century tool, the printing press, allowed knowledge to spread widely during the Renaissance,” says inventor Dean Kamen, ARMI’s executive director and chairman. “We are honored that Northwestern has joined us in this effort.”

ARMI|BioFabUSA is a vibrant ecosystem of researchers, innovators and manufacturers all focused on the mission of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Northwestern is a research leader in both fields.

“BioFabUSA will benefit from Northwestern’s expertise and insights to move more quickly to scalable solutions,” says Mark Kleinschmit, director of research strategy and development at SQI. “In return, Northwestern researchers will gain access to teams working on the front lines of the translation effort, allowing them to better understand the details of barriers. This process will allow investigators to produce more valuable innovation outcomes.”