Tailynn Yevette McCarty of the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department is one of three UMass College of Engineering students who are receiving Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each of these distinguished fellowships provides a stipend of $34,000 annually for three years.
According to the NSF website, the purpose of its Graduate Research Fellowship Program is to help ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time, research-based graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education.
For her NSF research project, McCarty will be working on a sophisticated new engineering approach to the widespread medical issue of diabetic foot ulcers caused by the mushrooming incidence of Type 2 Diabetes nationally.
As McCarty explains, diabetic foot ulcers are chronic, non-healing wounds which exhibit many poorly regulated biological processes, including poor signaling, which results in impaired cell activation and migration, poor cell communication, and insufficient vascularization, among other issues.
McCarty says that “Treatments for diabetic foot ulcers remain unsophisticated, consisting of multiple rounds of wound debridement, traditional bandaging, and offloading, which do not have a high success rate, and 20 percent result in limb amputation.”
To attack this burgeoning problem, McCarty proposes a novel localized treatment for diabetic foot ulcers by using extracellular vesicles (or lipid, bilayer-delimited particles) to regenerate healthy cellular tissue.
According to McCarty “Extracellular vesicles are heterogeneous populations of endosome-derived, bi-layered nanovesicles that carry similar cargo as parent cells, such as nucleic acids, lipids, RNA, DNA, and proteins. Increasing evidence has shown that extracellular vesicles mediate communication between different cell types throughout the body, resulting in harmonious multicellular tissues.”
In addition, McCarty adds, “Extracellular vesicles are biocompatible, can be engineered to transport specific cargo, and are thought to be immune-privileged, [meaning] they do not elicit an immune response from recipients when transplanted.”
To initiate regeneration of skin tissue in and around diabetic foot ulcers, McCarty’s project will be using extracellular vesicles from reprogrammed “fibroblasts,” which are the most common cells in human connective tissues. Fibroblasts are able to synthesize the extracellular matrix and collagen, produce the structural framework for tissues, and play a critical role in wound healing.
“However,” says McCarty, “extracellular vesicles from these [fibroblast] cells have yet to be tested. I hypothesize that localized administration of reprogrammed fibroblasts extracellular vesicles…will enhance wound healing in diabetic foot ulcers.”
According to McCarty, “This proposal presents an engineering approach to a needed medical problem by generating a wholly novel therapeutic method using extracellular vesicles from reprogrammed fibroblasts. In addition, this research proposal is broadly applicable as a treatment for various types of wounds, such as burn wounds, surgical wounds, and bedsores.”
This sophisticated research represents a long and difficult journey for McCarty from being the first in her family to attend college, through a very demanding undergraduate curriculum at the University of Rhode Island, and now, with the help of her NSF fellowship, to a place on the research team of BME Professor Cathal Kearney as her mentor.
Kearney has exemplary experience in drug delivery, device design, and regenerative medicine, “which are all the fields I would like to champion,” as McCarty concludes.