Two New University Research Centers will Create Technologies to Store Living Systems
The Biostasis Research Institute (BRI) launches today by establishing and funding two new research centers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Minnesota aimed at creating human organ banks through the cryogenic storage of organs donated for transplantation.
These research centers will develop new technologies to store tissues, organs, and whole organisms for biomedical research as part of a larger “Apollo Program” in cryopreservation (extreme cold storage) and suspended animation (safely slowing and stopping biological processes). This research effort has now reached well over $100 million in funding from U.S. science agencies, philanthropic donors, and industry partners.
Bioengineering research funded by the BRI will initially focus on three objectives. Each of these goals is uniquely tractable from a bioengineering perspective and meets the needs of a vulnerable or underserved community of patients. The public health impact of each of these technologies has also been poorly understood until now, resulting in little research funding to date:
The first human organ cryopreservation to save children in need of a transplant: Infants and small children in need of a transplant have an especially hard time finding a matching donor. Yet unfortunately, donor infant organs are discarded at a higher rate than adults because a suitable recipient can be difficult to find nearby. The BRI aims to connect this supply with children in need by enabling the storage of untransplanted neonatal organs until a recipient is identified.
Creating the first functional human brain banks: The treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, Epilepsy, and other brain diseases is hindered by the fact that research animals and other laboratory models lack the unique features of the human brain. Today sections of human brain tissue can be donated and studied in the laboratory while maintaining essential functions such as signaling between neurons.
This donated tissue is an invaluable resource for understanding the human brain and developing treatments to neurological diseases, but today it is incredibly scarce because the brain tissue cannot be donated on a large scale and stored without destroying the tissue’s function. The BRI aims to create the first technologies for routine brain donation and biobanking that keep the brain tissue viable during long-term storage. These functional brain banks will be a transformative new resource for neuroscience and drug discovery.
Extending the storage time of kidney transplants from days to weeks: Today kidneys and other organs must reach their recipient within hours after they are donated, limiting the options to find a suitable match between donors and recipients. The BRI aims to extend this time window, allowing thousands more kidneys to be transplanted each year globally. These technologies can also allow many more kidney recipients to avoid lifelong immunosuppression treatment, freeing them from life-threatening infections, cancer, and other illnesses.
“This institute is another major step forward in the ability to store life,” said Jedediah Lewis, founder and Director of the BRI. “These technologies can bring to science and medicine what other domains, such as energy and agriculture, have taken for granted for centuries: practical, widespread distribution of humanity’s most important lifesaving resources. The benefits for human health will be profound.”
This National Donate Life Month, the launch of the BRI brings new hope to patients in need of a transplant.
“Almost one third of all deaths in the United States are caused by organ failure. Today less than 3% of this need is being met by organ transplantation in the U.S. and even less globally. A major contributor to the problem is the inability to store organs; the establishment of organ banks could make thousands more transplants possible, while adding years and sometimes decades of healthy life for organ recipients compared with transplantation today,” said Dr. Sebastian Giwa, founder of the BRI and founder of the Organ Preservation Alliance, and resident of Las Vegas, NV.
The BRI is founded and funded by five U.S. organ procurement organizations, the nonprofits designated by the U.S. government to coordinate all donation of organs for transplantation within a geographic area. These include LifeGift (TX), Nevada Donor Network (NV), Donor Network West (CA and northern NV), LifeSource (MN), and Lifebanc (OH). Other founders and donors include the Organ Preservation Alliance, Bitcoin philanthropic foundation the Pineapple Fund, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Surgery, the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Organ Preservation Alliance co-founders Jedediah Lewis and Dr. Sebastian Giwa.
To help meet these challenges, the BRI is funding the establishment of two research centers that will work in tight coordination:
The first new research center, the Center for Biostasis at Massachusetts General Hospital, will create and apply new technologies to control ice formation at sub-freezing temperatures and condition living systems to undergo extreme temperature changes. This center will be housed at the largest Harvard-affiliated research hospital and led by Drs. Mehmet Toner, Korkut Uygun, and Shannon Tessier.
The second new research center, the Organ and Tissue Preservation Center at the University of Minnesota, will focus on technologies to safely and rapidly rewarm cryopreserved organs and other living systems. This center will be housed within the University of Minnesota Institute for Engineering in Medicine (IEM) and will be led by the IEM Director, Dr. John Bischof, and Department of Surgery faculty member, Dr. Erik Finger.
“In a few short years, a modern day ‘Apollo Program’ in cryopreservation has started to take shape. Having progressed from individual-driven projects to well over $100 million in funding and the convergence of organ banking technologies, the time is now opportune in this field to develop the Biostasis Research Institute,” said Professor Mehmet Toner, Co-Director of the new Center for Biostasis at Massachusetts General Hospital. “With this institute now launching and funding a new Center for Biostasis at Massachusetts General Hospital, we are excited to play a lead role in driving this research forward.”
“We applaud the Biostasis Research Institute for spearheading a research effort that aims to address some of the most critical bottlenecks in regenerative medicine,” said Professor John Bischof, Director of the Institute for Engineering in Medicine at the University of Minnesota and Research Director of the new Organ and Tissue Preservation Center. “By funding a new Organ and Tissue Preservation Center at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine, the institute is accelerating research and technology development that will positively impact millions of patients, including children on transplant wait lists, and people with neurodegenerative conditions.”
Joe Ferreira, President and CEO of Nevada Donor Network and President of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO) shared, “Nevada Donor Network’s mission is to maximize the gift of life and health through organ, eye, and tissue donation, which includes supporting scientific research that advances an organ donor’s gift. We chose to be a founding donor of this research because it is critical to extending the viability of life-saving organs and tissues so that we can save more lives and help more patients in need.”
“By funding biostasis research, we are investing in the future of organ donation and transplantation. This initiative advances the mission of organ procurement organizations: to honor the heroism of every organ donor by maximizing the impact of their life-saving gifts,” said Susan Gunderson, CEO of BRI founding donor LifeSource.