Joyce Wong Wins Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award


Joyce Wong
Joyce Wong

The Hartwell Foundation has awarded Associate Professor Joyce Wong (BME) a 2008 Individual Biomedical Research Award.

The award, given for exceptional work in applied biomedical research to advance children’s health, includes $100,000 of funding per year for three years. Since 2006, The Hartwell Foundation of Memphis, Tenn., has annually selected 12 researchers from 12 institutions in the US to receive these awards. This year’s recipients include researchers working in molecular biology, diagnostics, imaging, infectious disease, tissue engineering and neurobiology. The Foundation supports innovative early-stage research ideas with the potential to benefit children in the U.S.

The grant will support Wong’s work on developing tissue engineering solutions for pediatric vascular surgery repair.

“We’re very excited about this because it’s enabling us to bring our research in a new direction, to develop solutions for children,” said Wong, who also has a personal connection to the work, with a niece and nephew both diagnosed with congenital heart problems. “In our current research, we’re designing vascular grafts using tissue engineering for adults, but children have very different requirements.”

Children with congenital heart or vascular defects may have to undergo a series of surgeries throughout childhood to repair faulty blood vessels. Blood vessel tissue engineered in the laboratory might help graft or patch these diseased vessels, but would also need to grow with the child.

Wong and colleagues plan to study how engineered tissue can accommodate these unique requirements in children, figuring out what mechanical and chemical signals need to be present for a tissue graft to grow with the child.  For example children’s cells produce elastin, a protein that gives skin and cells their resilience, but adults’ cells do not.

Wong plans to build a laboratory device called a bioreactor for this project. The bioreactor simulates the environment of the human body and assesses how engineered tissues react to fluids, pressure and other stimuli.

“It’s very hard to do research for children because of the lack of models that are out there, but that’s why with bioengineering, with a bioreactor, you can start to answer these questions,” said Wong.

Wong will collaborate with Ram Emani, a cardiac surgeon at Children’s Hospital, Assistant Professor Darrell Kotton (MED), and several other researchers on the project.