Shashi Murthy, assis­tant pro­fessor of chem­ical engi­neering at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, has been awarded a three-​​year $1.9 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) to develop inno­v­a­tive tech­niques for iso­lating and cul­ti­vating stem cells for use in the replace­ment of dam­aged tissue.

An inter­na­tional team of researchers led by Murthy will design and build small devices to extract cell types that help to grow new tissue for car­diac muscle or skin, for example, or repair dis­eased or non-​​functional tissue.

Stem cells and cells that resemble stem cells are present in every tissue of the human body. Under cer­tain con­di­tions, these cells have the capacity to repair dam­aged tissue.

Murthy explains, “Stem cells play a crit­ical role in the devel­op­ment of the human body and all its parts. Our goal is to advance regenerative-​​medicine tech­nolo­gies by more effec­tively extracting and cul­ti­vating stem cells to mul­tiply and develop into new tissue.”

His team will develop a new family of devices, called microflu­idic sys­tems, which will enable greater effi­ciency and accu­racy in the sep­a­ra­tion of stem cells from a small tissue or blood sample.

One focus of this work—to be pur­sued in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rebecca Car­rier, another assis­tant pro­fessor of chem­ical engi­neering at Northeastern—is the iso­la­tion of intestinal stem cells. These cells are extremely chal­lenging to sep­a­rate, since they tend not to sur­vive after they’re extracted from their native environment.

As part of the grant, Murthy will also col­lab­o­rate with sev­eral sci­en­tists from research insti­tu­tions throughout North America. Working with Milica Radisic, an assis­tant chemical-​​engineering pro­fessor at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, Murthy will explore ways of repairing dis­eased heart tissue by obtaining car­diac stem cells from normal tissue and implanting these cells into dam­aged tissue.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with John Mayer and Juan Melero-​​Martin, doc­tors at Children’s Hos­pital Boston, Murthy will inves­ti­gate blood-​​vessel tissue repair by extracting cells capable of repairing the tissue and implanting them into dam­aged blood vessels.

And Murthy will team up with Martin Yarmush and Yaakov Nah­mias, researchers at Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital and Shriners Burn Hos­pital, to study how stem cells extracted from hair fol­li­cles in normal skin can repair severely burned skin by growing new hair fol­li­cles and sweat glands.