Penn State doesn’t just foster innovation — it puts its money where its mouth is with its annual Penn State Biodevices Seed Grant and Grace Woodward Collaborative Research in Engineering and Medicine Grants, both open to PSU faculty across disciplines. Designed to support the important work on biodevice development, the grant program was founded in 2020, along with the university’s Center for Biodevices.
The grant programs support interdisciplinary collaborations between clinicians, engineers and scientists to advance technology that can improve health. The funds are essential support that empower teams to generate the data they need for external grant applications and co-authoring studies and articles for publications. The funds can also help teams develop prototypes of their biodevices, an essential step for attracting commercial interest.
The rapid increase in demand and woeful unavailability of adequate organs has created a global shortage of donor organs. This has far-reaching consequences, one of which is limiting the options for patients who need pancreas replacement therapy — and it’s a consequence that one of this year’s grant recipients is looking to overcome.
“Current implantation strategies for type-I diabetes involves encapsulation of cadaveric islets and transplanting them in vascularized locations in the body,” explains Ibrahim Ozbolat, Associate Professor of engineering science and mechanics, and biomedical engineering. Along with his team, Ozbolat is working on innovating high throughput bioprinting of islet for the fabrication of pancreatic devices to treat Type 1 diabetes.
“The design of scalable implants that can deliver therapeutic dose[s] of islets while maintaining a reasonable size for transplantation and supporting graft survival and function has been a long-standing problem,” he says.
Ozbolat’s project aims to bioprint 3D, scalable pancreatic devices that are vascularized and sensitive to glucose, while supporting long-term graft success and insulin independency. The state-of-the-art bioprinting technology could be a game changer. “This unique approach represents a major step toward scalable fabrication of an artificial pancreas, which will have a broad impact on future translation of bioprinted organs for Type 1 diabetes,” he adds.
The team is hoping to, in the future, be able to further replace human islets with engineered islets made of human stem cell-derived islets that will be genetically edited to overcome immune protection concerns. “We will then implant these scalable devices into immunocompetent mice for further evaluation followed by bioprinting scalable devices for rats and then larger animals towards clinical translation,” says Ozbolat.
Bringing bright minds together to jump start ideas in biodevices is a critical function of Penn State's Center for Biodevices in the College of Engineering, and while the Center for Biodevices is only in its sophomore year, it already has a major success under its belt. 2020 grant recipient Dr. Steve Hicks has received support from the National Institutes of Health for research related to his seed grant: the refinement of a rapid saliva miRNA diagnostic test for concussions.
Every year, the center receives up to 20 proposals from 40-plus researchers when the call for seed grant applications goes out, and the future for biodevices and the innovative entrepreneurs behind tomorrow’s next great discovery remains bright. “We expect to continue offering the CfB seed grants and Woodward grants annually,” assures Mary I. Frecker, the center’s director.
To learn more about the Center for Biodevices, visit https://www.biodevices.psu.edu/.