CHARLESTON — One of the Charleston area’s newest engineers is an internationally renowned researcher who takes an unconventional approach to studying how metal interacts with the body, a field that affects millions of implant patients each year.

Jeremy Gilbert will begin 2017 as the Hansjörg Wyss Endowed Chair for Regenerative Medicine at Clemson University.

Jeremy Gilbert speaks with Ph.D. student Bre Przestrzelski in a lab at Clemson University.

Jeremy Gilbert speaks with Ph.D. student Bre Przestrzelski in a lab at Clemson University.

His appointment signals that Clemson is investing a spectacular amount of intellectual muscle in its engineering programs in the Charleston area, one of the fastest growing areas on the East Coast.

Gilbert will be the third endowed chair in six months added to the university’s Charleston-based faculty. Two of the positions, including Gilbert, are part of a program that brings together bioengineers, scientists and clinicians to do research together at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Endowed chairs are among the most esteemed positions on the Clemson faculty and were created to attract and support the world’s most eminent scholars.

Gilbert’s new position was made possible in part by Hansjörg Wyss, who Forbes magazine called  “among the most philanthropic people in the world.” He built Synthes into a leading medical-device manufacturer before selling to Johnson & Johnson in 2012.

Matching funds for Gilbert’s position were provided by South Carolina’s lottery-funded SmartState program.

Gilbert comes to Clemson from Syracuse University, where he was a faculty member for 18 years. He has maintained a focus on metals at a time when many of his colleagues in the biomaterials field have opted to study polymers and ceramics.

Gilbert said almost all medical devices that end up in patients’ bodies, from hips to dental implants, have a metal complement to them.

The body can create chemicals, such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide, when it’s trying to rid itself of invading bacteria or a foreign object, but those chemicals also accelerate metal corrosion.

“Corrosion may be stimulating the body to react, but then the body releases chemicals that enhance the corrosion process,” Gilbert said. “That feedback is a new idea, something that people have understood could be possible. We’re the first group to bring this idea forward and look carefully at what these cells make, how much of it and what impact that has on the corrosion process for these alloys.”

The work could lead to new technical advancements that prevent infection in implant patients.

Gilbert will be part of the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program, a 14-year-old collaboration that pairs Clemson bioengineers with MUSC scientists and clinicians. He will have a joint appointment with MUSC’s Department of Orthopaedics and plans to work closely with its chair, Vincent Pellegrini Jr.

“I’m excited about being at both institutions,” Gilbert said. “Clemson is my home, but I’m living at MUSC. I feel like if I can make both of those institutions feel good about the interaction, I’ve succeeded, and that’s my goal.”

The director of the Clemson-MUSC program, Hai Yao, was elevated in August to the Ernest R. Norville Endowed Chair in Biomedical Engineering. Another recent addition to Clemson’s Charleston-based faculty was Johan Enslin, the new Duke Energy Endowed Chair in Smart Grid Technology and director of the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Clemson, said that Gilbert’s arrival will help the state create a pipeline of talent to the state’s biomedical industry and conduct job-creating research.

“The biomedical industry is growing fast and strategically important to South Carolina,” Jones said. “We welcome Dr. Gilbert to the team. Top-flight professors like him are key to enhancing the state’s knowledge-based economy, which ultimately leads to higher paying jobs.”

MUSC Interim Provost Lisa K. Saladin said the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program has been a great partnership that is beneficial to both universities.

“This collaborative relationship enables us to strengthen the educational experience for our graduate students and to enhance the quality of our research,” she said. “This unique partnership between a medical school and an engineering program should serve as a model for other universities. I am excited to welcome Dr. Gilbert to Charleston and to MUSC as he is an excellent addition to the team. I anticipate that he will serve as a great leader for this joint initiative.”

Martine LaBerge, chair of the bioengineering department, said that Gilbert is an eminent scholar.

“His cutting-edge research is breaking new ground in the biomaterials field,” she said. “Dr. Gilbert is an excellent fit to widen the talent pipeline and generate the technologies that will directly benefit the state’s companies.”

Gilbert is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biomaterials Research. He was elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineers in 2004 and was inducted in 2012 as Fellow of the International Union of Societies of Biomaterials Science and Engineering.

Gilbert is founder of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute at Syracuse University and was appointed in 2013 to the Medical Devices Committee of the Food and Drug Administration. He has been a consultant for numerous medical device companies and has published more than 160 peer-reviewed manuscripts or book chapters, 250 conference transactions and 10 patents.

Congratulations on Gilbert’s appointment also came from Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

“He comes to Clemson with impeccable credentials,” Gramopadhye said.  “His experience in academia, government and the private sector is a testament to his leadership in the field of biomaterials. I welcome him to South Carolina.”

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