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Bioengineering symposium highlights growing strength for South Carolina


April 14, 2009

Bioengineering symposium highlights growing strength for South Carolina

South Carolina is hoping to become a hub for scientific research that develops techniques for generating hearts, kidneys and other organs in the laboratory in order to repair or replace diseased or damaged organs in humans. Such research is termed regenerative medicine, and is part of the broader scientific field of bioengineering, which uses principles and methods from the physical, engineering and computational sciences to address problems in biology and medicine. In addition to improving health care, the field of regenerative medicine is likely to provide a boost to the state's economy.


Beginning today, several hundred researchers and representatives from state and national academic, government, industrial and funding organizations are gathering in Columbia for the South Carolina Bioengineering Symposium. Attendees are discussing opportunities and funding sources for multidisciplinary and multi-organizational biomedical research, showcasing novel research projects across the state, and planning for future bioengineering activities in South Carolina.


The Bioengineering Symposium is co-chaired by Dr. Roger Markwald and Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEE) endowed chair Dr. Richard Swaja. Dr. Markwald is a professor and chair of cell biology and anatomy at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and is an international leader in molecular and cellular research. Dr. Swaja holds the CoEE Endowed Chair in Regenerative Medicine at MUSC and is director of the South Carolina Bioengineering Alliance (a partnership among Clemson University, University of South Carolina and MUSC). Swaja, who holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Science from Carnegie Mellon University and has worked as a lead investigator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and as a senior advisor at the National Institutes of Health, was recruited to South Carolina by the CoEE program, which uses state and non-state funds to recruit top-tier scientists and engineers to lead cutting-edge research programs at the state's senior research universities.


Dr. Swaja leads the CoEE in Regenerative Medicine at MUSC. The Center fosters basic research in genetics, developmental biology, cell biology and stem cell physiology, and works to translate that research into new treatments for genetic and degenerative disorders in which malfunctioning organs can be repaired or replaced with regenerated tissue. The Center has filed for several patents for wound-healing technology, and a spin-off company, FirstString, was launched to commercialize this technology. The Regenerative Medicine CoEE is a collaborative effort among MUSC, Clemson and USC.


"Bioengineering in South Carolina is providing a platform for multidisciplinary and multi-organizational scientific research and education," said Swaja. "Statewide collaborations through the CoEE program and other efforts are strengthening South Carolina's science base and offering significant promise to improve health care and support the regional economy."


Another endowed chair in the Regenerative Medicine CoEE is Dr. Martin Morad, who is based at USC and who holds faculty positions at all three senior research institutions. He is an internationally recognized scientist in the field of cardiac electrophysiology who is working on the first pacemaker for humans derived from biological tissue. Morad has maintained a lab at Mount Desert Biological Labs in Maine for 35 years; he and his colleagues have cloned a gene from shark hearts that they have introduced into the mouse genome as a way to prevent arrhythmias associated with heart failure. Dr. Morad described his groundbreaking work at the symposium.


The newly awarded CoEE for Advanced Tissue Biofabrication at MUSC is another example of a statewide collaborative research effort based on bioengineering and regenerative medicine. The Center focuses on a process called "bioprinting," which uses living cells and a hydrogel to assemble human tissues and organs in much the same way that an office printer layers ink on paper. This CoEE is also a collaboration among all three senior research institutions in South Carolina. MUSC is searching for an expert in stem cell biology to lead its portion of the joint effort, while Clemson and USC are seeking experts in developmental biology and biofabrication.


Clemson President James Barker, USC President Harris Pastides and MUSC President Ray Greenberg each spoke at the symposium today. They affirmed their support for South Carolina's growing bioengineering resources and for the CoEE program's ability to foster statewide cooperation and a unified vision for science research and education.


"The CoEE program has provided scientific leadership that is vital to developing nationally-relevant programs and for attracting and retaining top talent in the state," said Greenberg. "The CoEE program, the South Carolina Bioengineering Alliance and other collaborative efforts are so important for providing direction and infrastructure that allows organizations, scientists and students to work together to realize the benefits of bioengineering research."


The one-and-a-half-day Bioengineering Symposium is part of a three-day South Carolina Academy of Sciences Conference on Science, Technology and Health, running from today through Thursday at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. 


The complete program for the Bioengineering Symposium can be found at



About the CoEE program

The CoEE program was created by the South Carolina legislature in 2002 and is funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, Medical University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEEs) in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence is awarded from $2 million to $5 million in state funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state investment. To date, 42 Centers of Economic Excellence and 75 CoEE endowed chairs have been awarded. The program currently supports 21 CoEE endowed chairs, world-renowned researchers who lead the Centers of Economic Excellence. For more information, visit



About the South Carolina Academy of Sciences


The South Carolina Academy of Science, with the South Carolina Junior Academy of Science, is the only statewide interdisciplinary science organization whose membership includes high school students, teachers, administrators, college students, professors, scientists, related professionals, parents of students, college presidents, business executives, owners of large and small businesses, as well as leaders of financial institutions and institutions of higher education. All Academy members share a deep commitment to stimulate the creative abilities of the youth of our state and to provide learning opportunities that allow for the development of their talents. South Carolina Academy of Science annual meetings provide a forum for the exchange of scientific information among members. Yearly activities of the Academy include sponsorship of numerous awards, science programs and student research projects.

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