$1.65 million NSERC CREATE grant boosts lab-grown human tissue research

Professor Milica Radisic has been announced as the lead recipient of a major research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The funding will help train the next generation of experts in new treatments for disease based on lab-grown human tissues.

The grant, worth $1.65 million over six years and issued through NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program, is designed to help train teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad. Radisic is one of two U of T lead recipients in this round of announcements, totalling eight active CREATE grants across the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

Radisic and her team focus on growing human tissues outside the body. They recently unveiled the AngioChip, a system for growing realistic vascularized heart and liver tissues in the lab. These engineered tissues offer an effective way to test potential drug molecules and determine their effect on these organs, an application that is already being commercialized through the spin-off company TARA Biosystems. Eventually, they could be implanted into the body to repair or replace damaged organs.

The new funding will leverage the success of AngioChip’s commercialization. “In contrast to other CREATE programs that provide training through industrial internships, our training here will focus on developing a company,” said Radisic, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Functional Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering. “Our students will learn how to apply for patents, develop a business plan, make an effective fundraising pitch and more.”

Radisic doesn’t expect every student to create a startup, and she knows that not every new business succeeds. Nevertheless, she feels that entrepreneurship training for engineering graduate students is a critical part of building strong Canadian industries. “The knowledge they gain will be transferable beyond their field,” she said. “In time, I expect to see them in roles like chief executive officer, chief scientific officer, senior scientist, consultants and IP specialists.”

Her project includes 11 primary investigators from U of T: Professors Craig SimmonsAxel Guenther (MIE), Paul SanterreAlison McGuiganArun Ramchandran (ChemE), Penney GilbertEdmond Young (MIE), Aaron WheelerSara Vasconcelos (Medicine) and Eugenia Kumacheva (Chemistry), as well as collaborators as the Université Laval, the University of Ottawa, McMaster University, Queen’s University, Ryerson University and the University of Victoria. It also includes support from the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

“Professors Herman and Radisic are leading innovative programs that address key challenges in communications technology and human health,” said Professor Ted Sargent, vice-dean of research in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “This support will help us nurture a new generation of engineering leaders who can bring solutions from the laboratory into the marketplace.”

With files from Tyler Irving. This story originally appeared in U of T Engineering News on April 14, 2016.