Gymama Slaughter, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will develop a bio-reactor to extend the viability of lifesaving human organs as they await transplant.
A bio-reactor is a vessel that carries out a biological reaction and is used to culture aerobic cells for conducting cellular or enzymatic immobilization
The Ghana-born Slaughter, who’s also the director of the Bioelectronics Laboratory at UMBC, will be able to build the organ-saving device because of a major new grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command.
She and her team, which includes Johns Hopkins University associate professors Warren Grayson and Gerald Brandacher, will receive nearly $1.5 million over three years.
They will create a bio-reactor by integrating in-line sensors, mechanical stimulator and a blood perfusion system to more accurately and continuously monitor organs as they are transported for transplantation.
The team will also develop a system that closely mimic the organ’s natural environment.
Slaughter’s focus will be to develop metabolic sensors that continuously monitors the organ’s nitric oxide and oxygen levels while Grayson is tasked with creating a mechanical stimulator to keep the organ moving during the transportation process, so the organ tissue does not become rigid and die. Meanwhile, Brandacher will develop technology to continuously supply the organ or tissue with blood, to maintain viability, and will focus on the clinical aspects of the grant.
“Cell, tissue and organ transplants have become an increasing viable clinical treatment options for injured soldiers and veterans, and those types of transplants are severely limited by short preservation time in addition to tissue and, or, organ death that occur during that preservation period,” Slaughter said.
“This new technology will significantly increase the efficacy of treatment options for organ and reconstructive transplantation to enable soldiers and veterans to return to a highly-active and productive lifestyle,” she said.
Slaughter, who moved to the U.S. from Ghana when she was 12 along with her seven siblings, holds a B.S. in chemical engineering and a Ph.D. in computer engineering from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She also is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Career Award, which recognizes junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through her work.
She joined UMBC as an assistant professor in 2010.
Slaughter’s research aspiration is to develop novel and powerful diagnostics tools that integrates nanotechnology with biology and electrochemistry and thereby enabling their applications in homeland security, medical diagnostics, and environmental protection, she said.
The organ-saving device she’s building allows Slaughter’s team to embark on the difficult task of developing a new technology that can ultimately help improve the quality of life for those in need of tissue or organ transplantation.
“Our multi-paramedic perfusion bio-reactor is designed to mimic the physiological microenvironment of tissue and organ, while using in-line bio-sensors to non-invasively monitor bio-makers of stress and functional activity to provide real-time feedback on organ health,” she said, when asked what might be the most important feature of the device.
Currently, organ and tissue donors typically needs to be near transplant recipients due to limitations in organ transport.
Some organs reportedly are only viable for about six hours, and they must be kept at very cool temperatures to remain feasible, so the transport process can be a race against time.
With technological improvements, the viability of the organs could be increased to about 36 hours, greatly increasing the distance an organ could travel from donor to recipient and the likelihood of a successful transplant, Slaughter said.
Receiving the grant allows the team to fully concentrate on developing the potentially life-saving device, she said.
“The grant’s impact expands well beyond reconstructive transplantation, as the process that extends the viability of tissue can be applied to organs and whole extremity transplants as well,” Slaughter said. “This work also signals dramatic change in future tissue and organ transplant preservation technologies.”
Slaughter noted that she’s always been interested in saving lives and she draws inspiration from her family, including her mother, husband and three children.
“They always keep me on my toes,” Slaughter said. “They’re always there to encourage my crazy ideas.”