UF BME featured in summer edition of Explore magazine

The Summer 2013 issue of the Explore Magazine highlights the research efforts of five faculty members from the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida: Drs. Wesley Bolch, Jon Dobson, Huabei Jiang, Christine Schmidt and Ranganatha Sitaram. 

The article, “Engineering Better Health: UF Scientists Are Applying Engineering Principles To Medical Problems” by Cindy Spence, highlights just some of the remarkable biomedical engineering research being performed at the University of Florida. This research encompasses the use of magnetic nanoparticles to control stem cell growth and differentiation, the development of novel imaging methods to diagnose diseases such as epilepsy, the creation of computational models to help physicians guide radiation exposure for diagnostic tests, the development of non-invasive methods to collect brain signals and correlate these signals to emotions and physical movements, and the utilization of chemical processing methods to preserve human nerve tissue. This research is having significant clinical impact as well, as illustrated by one example below.

To Edward Bonfiglio, the Avance nerve graft is the difference between keeping his left leg and losing it below the knee to a bullet from an attack in Afghanistan. Watch Edward’s Story

To UF biomedical engineer Christine Schmidt, Avance is a biomedical engineering success story.

Commercialized by the University of Florida through Axogen, a company at UF’s Innovation Hub and Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, the graft has been used now thousands of times, although Bonfiglio’s case may be the most dramatic. 

Dr. Christine Schmidt
Christine Schmidt, Chair of the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, developed technology for a graft that bridges gaps between severed nerves. The Avance graft was licensed by AxoGen, a company that participates in UF’s incubator programs.

Avance is an allograft, a cadaver nerve from which cells and tissue have been removed. The remaining structure provides a tunnel to guide the regrowth of peripheral nerves, which, unlike the central nervous system, can regenerate.

Schmidt says Avance was designed to bridge small gaps between nerves, the kind that might occur when a person cuts a finger in the kitchen. The injury to Bonfiglio’s leg left was much more extensive, but faced with the prospect of amputation, he and his doctors decided to test its limits. And it worked.

“I can walk all day without a problem, even do a light jog,” Bonfiglio says four years later. “I just wanted to keep my leg.”

Schmidt, now chair of UF’s J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, developed the decellularization procedure used in the nerve graft with her research group at the University of Texas at Austin. Axogen licensed her technology and combined it with earlier discoveries by David Muir, a UF professor of pediatrics and neuroscience.

Based on her experience working with Axogen, when Schmidt was asked to lead the expanding biomedical engineering department at UF, she was quick to accept.

“This department has everything,” Schmidt says. “At UT, I would have to go to Texas A&M to work with the veterinary school and go to San Antonio to work with the dental school and go to Houston to work with the medical school. Here, everything is co-localized, AND there is a strong innovation component. I know that because my technology didn’t get licensed in Texas, it got licensed here, as part of a UF startup. This is an exciting place to be.”

Founded in 2002, the biomedical engineering department has grown to 16 faculty members, thanks in large part to $10 million in gifts from the late cardiothoracic surgeon J. Crayton Pruitt and his family.

Read the full story: UF Scientists Are Applying Engineering Principles To Medical Problems

Explore Magazine