4:10 pm to 5:00 pm
Damage to spinal cord and peripheral nerve tissue can have a devastating impact on the quality of life for individuals suffering from nerve injuries. Our research is focused on analyzing and designing biomaterials that can interface with neurons and specifically stimulate and guide nerves to regenerate. These biomaterials might be required for facial and hand reconstruction or in trauma cases, and potentially could be used to aid the regeneration of damaged spinal cord.
New technologies to aid nerve regeneration will ultimately require that biomaterials be designed both to physically support tissue growth as well as to elicit desired receptor-specific responses from particular cell types. One way of achieving such interactive biomaterials is with the use of natural-based biomaterials that interact favorable with the body. In particular, our research has focused on developing advanced hyaluronan-based scaffolds that can be used for peripheral and spinal nerve regeneration applications. Hyaluronic acid (HA; also known as hyaluronan) is a non-sulfated, high molecular weight, glycosaminoglycan found in all mammals and is a major component of the extracellular matrix in the nervous system. HA has been shown to play a significant role during embryonic development, extracellular matrix homeostasis, and, most importantly for our purposes, in wound healing and tissue regeneration. HA is a versatile biomaterial that has been used in a number of applications including tissue engineering scaffolds, clinical therapies, and drug delivery devices. Our group has devised novel techniques to process this sugar material into forms that can be used in therapeutic applications. For example, we are using advanced laserbased processes to create “lines” of specific proteins within the hyaluronan materials to provide physical and chemical guidance features for the individual re-growing axons. We have found that these materials facilitate neuron interactions and are thus highly promising for regenerating peripheral and spinal nerves in vivo.
In a parallel approach to foster nerve regeneration, our group has developed natural tissue scaffolds termed “acellular tissue grafts” created by chemical processing of normal intact nerve tissue. These grafts are created from natural biological tissue — human cadaver nerves — and are chemically processed so that they do not cause an immune response and are therefore not rejected in patients. These grafts have been optimized to maintain the natural intricate architecture of the nerve pathways, and thus, they are ideal for promoting the re-growth of damaged axons across lesions. These engineered, biological nerve grafts are currently used in the clinic for peripheral nerve injuries and are being explored for spinal cord regeneration.
Christine E. Schmidt is the Pruitt Family Professor and Department Chair of the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida. Dr. Schmidt received her B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1988 and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1995. She conducted postdoctoral research at MIT as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, joining the University of Texas at Austin Chemical Engineering faculty in 1996. She was one of the founding faculty members of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UT Austin, and was at UT Austin until December 2012, when she moved to become the Chair of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida.
Dr. Schmidt is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), and a Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering (FBSE) of the International Union of Societies of Biomaterials Science and Engineering, She is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Materials Chemistry B and serves on the Editorial Boards for Materials Horizons, Acta Biomaterialia, Journal of Biomedical Materials Research, Journal of Biomaterials Science, Polymer Edition, International Journal of Nanomedicine, and Nanomedicine. She has received numerous research, teaching, and advising awards, including the American Competitiveness and Innovation (ACI) Fellowship from NSF’s Division of Materials Research, the Chairmen’s Distinguished Life Sciences Award by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and a Whitaker Young Investigator Award.
Dr. Schmidt’s research is focused on developing new biomaterials and biomaterial composites (e.g., natural material scaffolds, processed tissues, electronic polymer composites) that can be used to physically guide and stimulate regenerating nerves. In addition, her group is investigating neuron-electronic interfacing using electrically conducting polymers as a means to ultimately develop new bioprosthetics.