$31.4 Million Grant to Fund Regenerative Research at University of Michigan

Dentistry Today


A $31.4 million federal grant will allow a regenerative medicine resource center led by the University of Michigan School of Dentistry to continue its research into the restoration of dental, oral, and craniofacial tissues lost to disease, injury, or congenital disorders.

The five-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is the largest research award ever received by the school. It extends funding for the Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Regenerative Medicine Resource Center, which was established in 2017 with an $11.7 million startup grant, also from NIDCR.

The resource center’s leadership team includes researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

It includes University of Michigan collaborators from the Medical School, School of Public Health, College of Pharmacy, College of Engineering, the Office of Technology Transfer, and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, as well as contributions from private companies across the country.

In its first three years, the center has brought together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, clinicians, and regulatory and commercialization experts who evaluate regenerative medicine projects submitted by academic, for-profit, and nonprofit researchers.

Regenerative medicine investigates how to regenerate damaged cells, tissues, or organs to their full function, such as finding ways for the body to heal wounds faster or to repair bone that has been damaged. Research strategies often integrate engineering and biology, and they can incorporate biomaterials, biologics and drug delivery, cellular therapies, medical devices, or combinations of these factors.

The Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Center currently funds 13 interdisciplinary translational projects. In contributes scientific expertise and helps guide the researchers and their new technologies through steps such as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, preclinical studies, market analyses, and commercialization strategies.

The new grant will help advance the projects to the point where investigators receive FDA approval to begin clinical trials in patients for their new products and/or procedures, with the ultimate goal being their widespread use in the treatment of patients.

David Kohn, professor of dentistry and lead principal investigator for the resource center, said the new grant allows the center to expand on its early successes involving a wide variety of research projects.

“We are excited to advance to the next stage of this unique program and pleased that the NIDCR has the confidence in us to invest further in this initiative,” said Kohn, who also is a professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering and Medical School.

“It allows us to use the structure and processes we have developed so far to guide the projects to successful translation for patients and/or commercialization,” Kohn said.

“We have nurtured projects related to many areas of critical need in the dental, oral, and craniofacial space and have helped many projects advance along the translational pipeline, which is complex, time consuming, and costly,” said Kohn.

School of Dentistry dean Laurie McCauley said the new NIDCR grant is a significant milestone for the school’s longstanding commitment to scientific research. She noted that the school has been a national and world leader in dental and craniofacial research, dating to its early days after being founded in 1875.

“We are pleased to partner with the NIDCR and the other universities in this robust and groundbreaking project,” McCauley said. “To be leading this multidisciplinary group engaged in the latest regenerative medicine research is a testament to the quality of our faculty and researchers. It illustrates our commitment to advance and lead transformative science.”

Kohn said that 90% of projects in the center’s portfolio have been issued a patent or have a pending patent application. Also, 80% have had submissions to the FDA in efforts toward clinical clearance or approval, and 100% have corporate engagement.

Several new companies have been formed. Others have received equity financing. Some have advanced to clinical trials on sister technologies. Others have received add-on funding.

“The impact of these efforts will be a catalysis of translation never previously achieved in a National Institutes of Health extramural program, resulting in the transformation of dental, oral, and craniofacial medicine,” Kohn said.

The projects funded so far include many types of oral and craniofacial research. One centers on a patented bone adhesive designed to aid in the treatment of fractured bone and to more efficiently stabilize dental implants. Another is pursuing gene therapy to provide relief from dry mouth in patients whose salivary function has been damaged by radiotherapy for head and neck cancers.

William Giannobile, co-principal investigator and William K. and Mary Anne Najjar Professor of Dentistry, said this initiative is the first of its kind to aim to truly transform dental regenerative medicine to advance patient care.

“There have been many unsuccessful attempts of industry bringing regenerative technologies to advance clinical care, but this partnership offers a novel structure to leverage synergies between industry and academic scientists to realize clinical adoption,” said Giannobile, who also is chair of the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine and a professor of biomedical engineering.

Other principal investigators with Kohn and Giannobile include:

  • Charles Sfeir, associate dean for research and the director of the Center for Craniofacial Regeneration at the University of Pittsburgh
  • William Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine and a professor of surgery, bioengineering, and chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh
  • David Mooney, professor of bioengineering at Harvard University and core faculty member at the Wyss Institute

Mutsumi Yoshida, managing director of the center’s site at the University of Michigan, coordinates program needs with Patrick Cantini, a program administrator at the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute.

The Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Regenerative Medicine Resource Center is one of the two national Resource Centers established by the NIDCR in 2017 through its Dental Oral and Craniofacial Tissue Regeneration Consortium initiative. The other is the Center for Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Tissue and Organ Regeneration, a collaboration among several universities in California.

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