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Women's health, tissue regeneration to be focus of joint U. of I.-Carle program

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor 217-333-5802;

Gretchen Robbins, Public Relations Director, Carle Foundation Hospital 217-383-3016;


URBANA, Ill. — Women’s health and human-tissue regeneration are the focus of an agreement announced today between the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

The accord is a marriage of basic and clinical research in little-studied areas that could lead to new treatment approaches, said university and hospital officials.

“With this agreement, the Institute for Genomic Biology will be leading the way in bringing genome-enabled discoveries directly to clinical medicine,” said IGB Director Harris A. Lewin, a professor of animal sciences. “The partnership between the IGB and Carle Foundation Hospital is an ideal mechanism for promoting translational biomedical research, precisely at a time when the public is expecting direct health-care benefits from years of investing in genome sciences.”

James C. Leonard, M.D., the president and CEO of The Carle Foundation, further commented on the significance of this collaboration, recognizing its impact on the future of health care. “We see these university researchers partnering with our local physicians to create solutions and advancements in direct patient care. Our vision at Carle Foundation Hospital is to claim our position as a research organization through collaboration with University of Illinois researchers, placing a stronger focus on translational research.”

Scientists working under the IGB’s Host-Microbe Systems research theme, led by microbiologist Brenda A. Wilson, will collaborate with Carle physician Jon S. Weisbaum, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, to obtain vaginal tissue samples from consenting healthy women.

IGB scientists will then use newly emerging DNA technologies to isolate and identify all microbes in the samples and determine how changes in their composition and concentrations influence women’s health and susceptibility or resistance to vaginal infections. Therapies to promote healing or prevent infections are envisioned to result from the research.

Scientists working under the IGB’s Regenerative Biology & Tissue Engineering research theme, led by Lawrence B. Schook, a professor of animal science, will focus on healthy tissue samples taken from consenting Carle patients during surgeries.

The goal is to isolate adult stem cells in the tissue, then grow them in experimental devices into types of tissue that can be placed into injured regions to promote regeneration of tissue in and around injured areas of the body. Possible applications would be in facial and oral surgical repairs and in the repair of knee damage caused by football and soccer injuries, or in conjunction with knee and hip replacements.

Researchers in recent years have begun to understand the complexity of the microflora of the vagina, but very few of the actual components have been isolated and studied, Wilson said.

“We’re interested in understanding what these microbes are, what they do, and how they do it,” she said. “We know some of the major microbial players, but there are a whole range of different ones that take over during abnormal conditions such as infections. These are not necessarily pathogens; they are existing microbes whose roles change. We want to know what the changing dynamics are.”

Wilson’s team initially will study healthy samples from women to develop a baseline of the composition of microflora.

Later, the researchers will examine the microflora under conditions that occur, for example, with hormonal changes or antibiotic treatment for infection that leads to an imbalance of the normal vaginal microflora, as well as exposure to infections such as HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Such knowledge, Wilson said, could allow for improved clinical treatments and provide new methods for physicians to recognize early warning signs of problems for which symptoms may not yet be evident.

Schook’s team includes scientists who have expertise in basic genomics biology, biomaterials, and in chemical and biomolecular engineering. Eventually, the tissues grown by members of Schook’s research team could be used by Carle physicians to promote more efficient cell growth in surgically repaired areas and reduce the need for yet more surgery that sometimes becomes necessary when a patient is older.

“We want to design devices that will allow us to isolate the adult stem cells from tissue samples taken from fat, bone and cartilage, and then grow these cells in a controlled manner into bones, for example,” Schook said. “We need to have access to healthy tissue to do this work.”

The IGB collaboration with Carle gives a significant boost to furthering the establishment of a tissue bank at Carle Foundation Hospital. Originally conceived for the advancement of the Midwest Breast Institute, this tissue bank is designed to be a resource for clinical researchers in multiple disciplines. It represents the hospital’s latest foray into research with the current focus on translational studies.
Until very recently and for nearly 25 years, the hospital was involved in black bear research. Today, the hospital continues to participate in care-management trials; currently, more than 300 clinical studies are under way at Carle Clinic Association and Carle Foundation Hospital.

All research projects are subject to the prior approval of the Institutional Review Boards (IRB) of both organizations.