Two new awards strengthen research ties between Clemson and Greenville Health System
GREENVILLE — A bioengineer who is working to grow new arteries in a lab and an industrial engineer who is developing a health care app are the first winners of two new awards that strengthen ties between Clemson University and Greenville Health System (GHS).
Dan Simionescu and Kevin Taaffe, both of Clemson University, have each won awards named for Jerry E. Dempsey and his late wife, Harriet. Dempsey received his mechanical engineering degree from Clemson in 1954 and is the former chairman of the GHS board of trustees.
The professorship awards were set up to help encourage collaboration between Clemson engineers who work on the cutting edge of technology and GHS clinicians who can help ensure that research reflects patient needs.
“This is an exciting moment,” Dempsey said. “Not only are we honoring two individual researchers, but we are also strengthening the bonds between two organizations that help make the Upstate great. Bringing together Clemson and GHS positions us to work together on the groundbreaking research that will improve patient outcomes here at home and around the world.”
Clemson and GHS officials gathered Tuesday to announce the awards at the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC). The campus is a collection of cutting-edge Clemson labs and offices at the GHS Patewood Medical Campus.
Spence Taylor, the president and chief academic officer of Greenville Health System Clinical University, said, “The Dempsey professorship awards demonstrate continued collaboration between GHS and Clemson to address what we believe to be America’s greatest health threat: the challenged health care system itself.
“This initiative promotes transformation through the advancement of patient-centered care, quality improvement and service innovation. The combined impact of our clinicians and researchers working together exceeds what we can do as individual institutions.”
Simionescu received the Harriet and Jerry Dempsey CU/GHS Bioengineering Professorship Award.
“It feels great to be appreciated,” Simionescu said. “That’s one of the reasons I like Clemson. It makes you want to stay at the university.”
Taaffe received the Harriet and Jerry Dempsey CU/GHS Industrial Engineering Professorship Award.
“It’s an honor to be recognized among your colleagues and peers for doing meaningful research,” Taaffe said. “I’m planning to use the award to extend our research and to heighten the visibility of Clemson’s health care research.”
Robert Jones, the university’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the collaboration will help strengthen Clemson’s research enterprise while helping GHS address the next generation of challenges in healthcare.
“Clemson is dedicating top researchers to collaborations with Greenville Health System,” he said. “These collaborations will seed research initiatives that integrate faculty and students from various colleges and departments within Clemson. This is just the start of a larger research community spanning the Upstate.”
The professorship awards are the latest in a growing number of connections between Clemson and GHS. One of the main bridges between the two is Windsor Sherrill, associate vice president for health research at Clemson and chief science officer at GHS.
“Drs. Simionescu and Taaffe are two of Clemson’s top researchers,” Sherrill said. “Their collaboration with GHS clinicians is an excellent example of how two leading organizations can come together to address the next generation of challenges facing health care.”
Simionescu, an associate professor of bioengineering, is working with GHS clinicians to grow coronary and femoral arteries in a lab using stem cells from human fat. The arteries would help prevent complications by eliminating the need to graft arteries from other parts of the body and would be less likely to be rejected by the patient than artificial materials.
The vascular work Simionescu is doing with GHS clinicians is based on a separate ongoing research project involving heart valve replacements. In that project, researchers under Simionescu’s leadership are taking heart valves from pigs and washing away all the porcine cells in a specially created device. What’s left is a matrix that can be seeded with stem cells.
The technology is now being tested on sheep in Romania, and Simionescu said the results have been highly encouraging.
Martine LaBerge, the chair of Clemson’s bioengineering department, said Simionescu is highly deserving of the award.
“He is one of the world’s leading researchers in his field,” she said. “The work Dr. Simionescu is doing with clinicians is potentially transformative and exemplifies the best of collaboration between Clemson and GHS.”
Taaffe is working with GHS clinicians to develop an app to help staff, clinicians and managers coordinate more efficiently when patients go to the hospital for surgery and other procedures.
“This app could transform perioperative services spanning from the time the patient arrives, to pre-op, to the patient’s time in the operating room, and finally to post op,” Taaffe said. “Our goal at the end of the day is to bring in some technology that would get adopted in a broader health care setting and that leads to better decision making.”
Cole Smith, chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, congratulated Taaffe on his award.
“Dr. Taaffe is the rare researcher who publishes results in health-related engineering journals, produces tangible results that have a direct impact on healthcare, and actively involves students in his health research program,” Smith said. “His work helps set a high bar for this award.”
Jerry Dempsey, the former chairman of Greenville Health System’s board of trustees, was born and raised in Landrum, the son of textile workers. He graduated from Clemson University with a mechanical engineering degree in 1954. After graduation, Dempsey accepted a job with Owens Corning Fiberglas and left six months later to serve in the military. Dempsey later rose through the ranks of Borg-Warner, becoming president and chief operating officer in 1979. He joined WMX Technologies in 1984 as vice chairman and a year later was promoted to president and CEO of the Chemical Waste Management subsidiary, becoming chairman in 1991. Two years later, he retired as chairman and CEO and took on those positions at PPG Industries Inc. He retired from PPG in 1997.