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Emmanuel C. Opara, PhD

Emmanuel C. Opara, Ph.D, Professor

Dr. Emmanuel C. Opara was originally trained as a clinical biochemist at the University of Surrey, Guildford Surrey, England, where he received his M.Sc degree. He obtained his Ph.D from the University of London, England in 1984 when he came to the U.S as a W.H.O Fellow in Endocrinology/Metabolism at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. From there, he proceeded to the NIDDK of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD where he served as a Visiting Fellow from 1986 to 1988 when he was recruited to the faculty of the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. In 2003 he joined the faculty of the Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago while serving as Senior Investigator in the Human Islet Transplant Program at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Opara serves as Associate Editor for Pancreas and as a reviewer for more than thirty peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. Dr. Opara has led or served on numerous professional and government committees, including National Institutes of Health, the US Food & Drugs Administration, and Centers for Disease Control Study Sections. He is a member of many Professional associations and has organized and chaired several symposia for the American Federation of Medical Research. He has several patents dealing with cell microencapsulation procedures and devices. He has received many honors and awards, including the Distinguished Service Award of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons in 2007. Dr. Opara joined the faculty of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) as a Professor in July 2009, and also currently serves as the Program Director of the Virginia Tech - Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering & Sciences (Wake Forest University campus).

SYNOPSIS OF AREA OF INTEREST: Bioartificial pancreas - Islet Cell research: Development of procedures and devices to realize the clinical potential of the encapsulated islet technology is presently the main focus of my research. Areas of investigation include biomaterials for cell encapsulation, massively parallel concepts in cell microencapsulation, rapid tests of islet cell function, and use of alginate microcapsules for drug delivery in angiogenesis.

Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome: This was my primary area of research for many years, and remains an area of tremendous interest to me with particular interest in nutritional and pharmacologic strategies to prevent and treat obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Other areas of active investigation in the Opara lab at WFIRM include genetic engineering of cells for therapeutic application in diabetes; bioengineering of endocrine pancreatic tissue and engineering ovarian tissue constructs for hormone-replacement therapy.

DETAILED AREA OF INTEREST: 1. Bioartificial pancreas - Islet Cell Research: Development of procedures and devices to realize the clinical potentials of the encapsulated islet technology is presently one of the main focus of my laboratory. Areas of investigation include biomaterials for cell encapsulation, massively parallel concepts in cell microencapsulation, rapid tests of islet cell function, and use of alginate microcapsules for drug delivery in angiogenesis and regenerative medicine applications.

2. Regeneration of pancreatic β-cell in autoimmune diabetes: We have developed reliable and safe techniques for localized delivery of therapeutic immunomodulatory molecules in the autoimmune diabetic pancreas. Our approaches include the delivery of these molecules from encapsulated cells and cytokines.

3. Bioengineering of endocrine pancreatic tissue: The objective in this research is to bioengineer a functional endocrine pancreatic tissue that hopefully will enable us to increase the supply of transplantable tissue for type 1 diabetes. Our approach is to decellularize human or porcine pancreas and generate a pancreatic scaffold the preserves all the biochemical matrix and biological cues (collagen, laminin, fibronectin, integrins, and growth factors) to lead progenitor (undifferentiated) cells reseeded on the scaffold to develop into the endogenous endocrine cell phenotypes of the pancreas. We are examining different scenarios suitable for using the scaffold to reseed cells followed by histochemical and functional characterizations of the bioengineered tissue.

4. Bioartificial Ovary - Cell-based Hormone Therapy: Although medications under the umbrella of hormone replacement therapy can compensate for the loss of ovarian hormone production, this treatment modality can result in higher-than-normal hormone levels and complications. My laboratory is working on a cell-based hormone therapy – essentially an artificial ovary to deliver sex hormones in a more natural manner than drugs. The project involves using donor ovarian cells that are "encapsulated” in the same fashion as the natural architecture of follicular cells with thin membranes that allow oxygen and nutrients to enter the tissue construct, but prevent immune factors that would cause the patient to reject the cells. In in vitro studies, we showed that the encapsulated cells secreted sex hormones, demonstrating for the first time that the hormone-producing units of ovaries can be engineered outside the body. In more recent in vivo studies soon to be published, we have tested the encapsulated cells in preclinical studies and shown high efficacy of the tissue constructs in restoration of physiological levels of sex hormones as well as prevention of co-morbidities associated with ovarian failure.

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Last Updated: 12-07-2015
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