Scientists Create World’s Most Sophisticated Lab Model of Human Body

Anthony Atala, MDScientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) have developed the world’s most sophisticated laboratory model of the human body, creating a system of miniaturized organs that can be used to detect harmful and adverse effects of drugs before they are prescribed to patients.

Using such a system in screening potential pharmaceuticals could have a significant impact on speeding new drugs to market, lowering the cost of clinical trials, and reducing or eliminating animal testing.

Illustration of body outline and drawings of miniature organoid systems

The system, developed from funding provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, is built from many human cell types that are combined into human tissues representing a majority of the organs in the human body such as the heart, liver and lungs. Each of these miniature organs are tiny 3D tissue-like structures about one millionth the size of an adult human organ. The system can be used to mimic tissues/organs and can be used as a testing and predicting platform.

“The most important capability of the human organ tissue system is the ability to determine whether or not a drug is toxic to humans very early in development, and its potential use in personalized medicine,” said Anthony Atala, MD, WFIRM director and senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Biofabrication. “Weeding out problematic drugs early in the development or therapy process can literally save billions of dollars and potentially save lives.”

Federal Grant to Fund Study of Potential Imaging Biomarker for Alzheimer’s

Kiran Solingapuram Sai, PhD

School of Medicine researchers have received a five-year grant worth approximately $2.53 million from the National Institute on Aging to evaluate whether a novel brain-imaging technique can identify Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.

Using an animal model, the researchers will employ a tracer for positron emission tomography (PET scanning) to image microtubules—microscopic tubes that help define the structure and movement of cells—in the brain.

“Microtubules are message carriers within neurons that are very tightly bundled in a healthy brain,” said the project’s lead investigator, Kiran Solingapuram Sai, PhD, assistant professor of radiology. “If microtubules start disintegrating or detangling, they can’t do their job anymore. The neurons begin to degenerate and cognition declines.”

Study Shows Risks for Additional Procedures after Bariatric Surgery

Which of the two most common bariatric surgeries – gastric sleeve or gastric bypass – has the highest subsequent risk of additional operations or procedures? According to a study in JAMA Network Open, gastric bypass surgery is associated with a slightly higher risk of returning to the operating room or having other types of interventions, such as endoscopy.

Kristina Henderson Lewis, MD, MPH“If you’re having bariatric surgery and trying to decide between a sleeve and a bypass, this may be really important to know,” said Kristina H. Lewis, MD, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

The research team analyzed data from 4,476 patients undergoing bypass and 8,551 patients undergoing sleeve to determine the primary outcome of any abdominal operative intervention after the initial procedure. Patients were followed for up to four years after surgery.

The team found that bypass patients were about 20% more likely to have additional operations on their abdomen than a similar group of sleeve patients.

Newly Developed Nanoparticles Help Fight Lung Cancer in Animal Model

Scientists have reported a new approach to treating lung cancer with inhaled nanoparticles developed at the School of Medicine.

Dawen Zhao, MD, PhDIn this proof-of-concept study, Dawen Zhao, MD, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering, used a mouse model to determine if metastatic lung tumors responded to an inhalable nanoparticle-immunotherapy system combined with the radiation therapy that is commonly used to treat lung cancer.

Among other findings, the team showed that combining the nanoparticle inhalation with radiation applied to a portion of one lung led to regression of tumors in both lungs and prolonged survival of the mice. The team also reported that it completely eliminated lung tumors in some of the mice.

$6 Million Grant to Fund Study of Non-Opioid Pain Management in Cancer Survivors

In an effort to find a nonpharmaceutical approach to pain management for cancer survivors, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Health have been awarded $6 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to test the effectiveness of a web-based pain management program.

Donald Baird Penzien, PhDAn example of web-based pain management includes cognitive behavioral therapy provided through a secure online connection. The five-year grant is a supplement to the $25 million grant Wake Forest Baptist received in 2019 from the NCI’s Community Oncology Research Program.

“On average, as many as 40% of people who go through cancer treatment are left with some kind of residual and persistent pain,” said Donald B. Penzien, PhD, principal investigator of the study and professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “Unfortunately, cancer survivors have few viable treatment options other than opioids to help them manage their pain.”

Gut Bacteria Is Key Factor in Childhood Obesity

Illustration of bacteria in the lining of the small intestineInformation published by scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Health suggests that gut bacteria and its interactions with immune cells and metabolic organs, including fat tissue, play a key role in childhood obesity. 

“The medical community used to think that obesity was a result of consuming too many calories. However, a series of studies over the past decade has confirmed that the microbes living in our gut are not only associated with obesity but also are one of the causes,” said Hariom Yadav, PhD, lead author of the review and assistant professor of molecular medicine. 

Hariom Yadav, PhDIn the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is increasing at 2.3% rate each year among school-aged children, which is unacceptably high and indicates worrisome prospects for the next generation’s health, the article states.

Yadav’s manuscript, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, reviewed existing animal and human studies on how the interaction between gut microbiome and immune cells can be passed from mother to baby as early as gestation and can contribute to childhood obesity.

Research Funding

Research reported on in this publication was supported by the following grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

Study Shows Risks for Additional Procedures after Bariatric Surgery: Grants R01DK112750 and P30DK092924 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Newly Developed Nanoparticles Help Fight Lung Cancer in Animal Model: Wake Forest Comprehensive Cancer Center P30 CA01219740 grant and the Wells Fargo Scholar Program.