UC Berkeley researchers — in collaboration with researchers from the University of Minnesota, Massachusetts General Hospital and UC Riverside — won a National Science Foundation award Aug. 4 of $26 million over the next five years to fund a new center for biopreservation research.
This new center, called the NSF Engineering Research Center for Advanced Technologies for the Preservation of Biological Systems, is focused on biopreservation technologies that would allow for the extended ability to transport biological matter such as cells, tissues and organs.
More specifically, the center’s research focuses on the preservation of biological materials without freezing them. Currently, when living cells and tissue are frozen, ice crystals form. When thawed, living cells are lost and the tissue is poorly recovered, according to campus bioengineering and materials science professor Kevin Healy.
“You don’t want ice crystals forming in tissue; you want to cool (biological matter) without freezing it,” Healy said.
UC Berkeley researchers working at the center include Healy and campus mechanical engineering professors Chris Dames and Boris Rubinsky.
Their research into cryogenics could potentially change how organ transplants are done.
Because organs can only be frozen for a limited time before a transplant, the donor pool for them is limited. If organs could be stored for a longer period of time, donor pools could be greatly expanded, Healy said.
“Think of it simply: I have a heart and it needs to be replaced. Organs have a shelf life before it can’t be used for transplantation,” Healy said. “Let’s say you need a heart transplant, so within four or five hours, the heart needs to be taken out of a donor, gotten to you and put into you. What if you extended that time to 12 hours?”
According to Healy, this time extension would also allow for greater distances between donors and patients.
Healy added that the grant for the new center is just the beginning of the researchers’ work with biopreservation.
“The real story is when we start the research and see some success,” Healy said.