Researchers answer call to develop safe, effective strategies for tissue regeneration

As acronyms go, this is a mouthful, which seems apt for one associated with the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

The Ostrow-led research team C-DOCTOR (Center for Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Tissue and Organ Regeneration) is one step closer to developing a product that facilitates tissue regeneration, thanks to a $12-million award from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

The award stems from a challenge issued by the NIDCR two years ago for researchers to develop safe and effective clinical strategies for dental, oral and craniofacial tissue regeneration.

“This is really about engineering products,” said Associate Dean of Research Yang Chai DDS ’91, PhD ’96, one of the study’s principal investigators. “It’s not only about being able to understand what stem cells can do, but also how you deliver the stem cells for patient care.”

An example of the projects that the Ostrow-led research team, which includes seven other California-based universities and organizations, hopes to develop is an effective way to use a 3-D printed, dissolvable scaffold to help organize stem cells for focused repair and regrowth of bone tissue.

“Bone deficiency is a very common problem that patients face when they need an implant or when they have periodontal disease, traumatic injury or a birth defect,” Chai said. “Instead of stealing bone from other parts of the body, we’re going to be able to use stem cells to regenerate their own bone.”

Stages of funding

From the NIDCR’s original request for applications, 10 groups were selected as Stage 1 awardees, allowing them to continue competing for Stage 2 funding.

During Stage 1, the groups — composed of dental clinicians, researchers, engineers, biomaterials experts and regulatory scientists — worked to identify areas in which tissue regeneration could improve patient outcomes and make an immediate impact.

Ostrow researchers and DDS students also surveyed craniofacial surgeons, oral surgeons and dentists from all specialties to determine areas of clinical need. From the surveys, they determined that bone, soft tissues, tooth structure and periodontal tissues were areas that could be served best by the team’s expertise.

From 10 to two

From the original 10 awardees, just two were selected, including C-DOCTOR, to continue their work into Stage 2. A University of Michigan-led group is the other awardee.

Chai explained that, during Stage 2, the research team will take its study from a small to large animal model to prepare it for a Phase I clinical trial.

“USC already had a strong history and reputation in developmental biology and stem cell tissue regeneration,” Chai said of C-DOCTOR’s success in the competition. “But in this case, it was our partnership with really strong academic institutions throughout California that really made this consortium stand out.”

The California-based C-DOCTOR consortium includes the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the USC School of Pharmacy. Outside of USC, UCLA; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Davis; the University of California, San Diego; Stanford University and the City of Hope complete the massive West Coast effort.

“No one can do everything by themselves,” Chai said. “This is something that truly has to be done through a collaborative effort.”

In addition to Chai, Mark Urata ’85, DDS ’89, MD ’96 and Yong Chen of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are principal investigators from USC on the study.

“We are very excited to embark on this journey because we can see that our research will make a direct impact to improve human health care,” Chai said.

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