CLEMSON — Clemson University today joins nine other South Carolina higher education institutions in a research program that offers new hope for the thousands of individuals whose lives are threatened by organ failure and who wait in vain for too-few available transplant organs. More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants.

A $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) creates a statewide alliance in the field of tissue biofabrication, which could lead to the ability to produce human organs. The award is one of the largest in the state’s history.

Clemson University Vice President for Research and Economic Development Chris Przirembel said the opportunity for South Carolina researchers to work together on such a life-affirming research project is unprecedented.

“The scope of this research initiative is truly impressive, and all of South Carolina can be proud that the National Science Foundation has chosen the research community of our state for this focus,” Przirembel said. “Obviously NSF saw in South Carolina a willingness to collaborate and an emerging, high-potential body of research expertise. The ultimate benefit of this research project will be to improve the health and quality of life for all South Carolinians and others, and we eagerly await the outcomes.”

Przirembel said the resulting intellectual property could be the basis for new start-up companies that would be part of the emerging biomedical-device cluster in the state, creating a wide range of jobs at every level, from technicians to researchers.

Clemson’s role in the research project totals $750,000 over the five-year grant period. Principal investigator Larry Dooley will lead the Clemson research team, which will target three junior faculty members to work with faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina to develop a critical mass of in-state research expertise in tissue biofabrication. Yong Huang, mechanical engineering assistant professor, will serve as leader of the research thrust to build a three-dimensional “vascular tree,” the first crucial step in the process of fabricating complete organs. Clemson Computing and Information Technology also will play a significant role in the cyber-infrastructure necessary for collaboration among the institutions.

The research alliance is managed by the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and Institutional Development Awards (IDeA), two federal-state-university partnerships designed to increase research capacity and competitiveness for federal research and development funds. In addition to Clemson, the alliance includes the state’s two other research universities, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina, as well as Claflin University, Furman University, South Carolina State University, the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, Voorhees College, Denmark Technical College and Greenville Technical College. The South Carolina Research Authority will serve as fiscal agent of the award.

Esin Gulari, dean of Clemson’s College of Engineering and Science and a member of the National Science Board, the governing body for NSF, said the grant will undoubtedly boost South Carolina’s national research profile to new heights.

“Activities from this project will lead to a vanguard position in a new science and technology field that is truly global,” she said.

Details of the comprehensive project include:

  • Expansion of a current Medical University of South Carolina bioprinting program into a statewide Advanced Tissue Biofabrication center;
  • Recruitment of 22 new faculty members with expertise not currently available in South Carolina;
  • Creation of a global e-community to facilitate the development of sophisticated databases in vascular technology;
  • Establishment of national and international academic industrial collaborations and the integration of statewide initiatives for workforce development, education and communication to the general public; and
  • Integration of the alliance’s research with K-12 education to build South Carolina’s future high-tech workforce.

Educational innovations include development of e-textbooks and new curricula. New graduate-degree programs and postdoctoral- and graduate-research training are planned across the state. Training opportunities for South Carolina’s reporters and journalism students will enable in-depth reporting of scientific achievements and will enhance science literacy statewide.

The NSF award will connect regional, national and international cyber-networks and support collaborative e-communities for education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other activities will bridge South Carolina’s minority-serving programs and integrate with the science, education, communication and sustainability plans of the project.

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About South Carolina EPSCoR/IDeA
The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) are federal-state-university partnerships designed to increase research capacity and competitiveness for federal research and development funds.

South Carolina EPSCoR/IDeA leverages federal resources with support from the state General Assembly to build research infrastructure; infuse research into education; provide opportunities for diverse groups of institutions, students, faculty and disciplines in science and technology; and increase collaboration among key stakeholders of the state’s science and technology enterprise. Since 1990, S.C. EPSCoR/IDeA funds have enabled the hire of 95 junior tenure-track faculty members in science and technology at five South Carolina colleges and universities.  

South Carolina EPSCoR/IDeA has supported research in such disciplines as biomedical engineering; neuroscience; alternative energy; nanomaterials; structural, chemical, and cellular biology; and environmental science, bringing more than $185 million in federal research funding to the state.  

For more information, visit: www.scepscoridea.org.