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By Becky Dubin Jenkins

RESEARCHER

Dr. Lobat Tayebi

Director of Research and Associate Professor, School of Dentistry

2015 STRATEGIC INNOVATION FUND AWARDEE

As Dr. Lobat Tayebi walks briskly around her lab, a space completed only 15 months ago, she smiles as she points out the equipment in the vast space on the lower level of the School of Dentistry. The envisionTEC 3–D Bioplotter, Kinexus pro+ rheometer, Netzsch Differential Scanning Calorimeter 404, imaging suite, cell culture room and other instruments. She smiles more broadly when she shares the stories of the fruitful national and international collaborations leading to what she says will be powerful research outcomes. “Attracting the best research visitors nationally and internationally to our lab is crucial. Making connections, I think, is a strength of mine,” says Tayebi, the School of Dentistry’s director of research and an associate professor. Only two years ago, it may have been hard to imagine that somebody with Tayebi’s background — she has a bachelor of science in physics, a master of science in engineering physics and doctorate in applied science, not dentistry — would be directing research at a school that has been preparing oral health care leaders for more than 120 years. But Tayebi believes focusing on the disciplines’ differences is limiting and that the future of human health will be driven by “innovations resulting from the convergence of medicine with engineering and computational, physical, chemical, life and social sciences.” To make that convergence a reality, the nearly 20 researchers in Tayebi’s lab — biomedical scientists, engineers, and dental and post-doctoral students — are hoping their work in the interdisciplinary field of tissue engineering will be a huge boost to patients with large craniofacial defects. Such defects result from trauma or conditions like oral cancer, locally aggressive benign tumors and more. Normal treatment protocol for a patient can mean using microvascular free flaps, or transplantation of blood-rich tissue from one site of the body to another; autogenous bone or skin grafts, which are also derived from sources within the same individual; xenografts from one species to another; or reconstruction with synthetic materials. But transplantation and grafting don’t guarantee success, especially with defects larger than 5 centimeters. They traditionally require many surgical interventions, follow-up surgeries are costly, and complications can range from pain and restricted lifestyles to death. “I ask myself: ‘What can I implement in my lab that uses my knowledge and experience?’ ” she says. Right now, that’s 3D printing. Tayebi and her team are working to create novel bioactive scaffolds, or implants, which serve as templates for in situ oral tissue repair and regeneration.

The 3D-printed scaffolds must be treated with stem cells and growth factors to induce regeneration. Other considerations for critically sized defects are vascularization and blood vessel formation. “We need to use the growing era of personalized medicine and produce technologies that promote enhanced regeneration, especially for elderly patients,” she says. A proposal that won funding from Marquette’s 2015 strategic innovation fund was a hybrid 3D-printed biodegradable scaffold with mechanical properties like human bone, which is made of FDA-approved materials and considered ready for commercialization. This allows tailoring to each patient’s needs. “Our primary results verify 100 times enhancement in the mechanical strength of our new design scaffolds compared with conventional ones, which was a huge achievement,” she says. Intellectual property protection for the invention is under way.

“I want to do something for human beings, for human health,” Tayebi says.

Among other projects in Tayebi’s lab, one is determining a better storage method for avulsed, or forcibly detached, adult teeth of children from events like playground trauma. If a tooth is out of its socket for more than 30 minutes, it likely will be lost within five years. The group is studying how to preserve periodontal ligament cells and identify an inexpensive, readily available storage medium.

But, in some ways, these projects are just a beginning. Tayebi is as adept at bringing together cross-disciplinary collaborators as she is writing grants for research dollars. She was the only faculty member to have two proposals funded in the first round of Marquette’s 2015 strategic innovation and submitted 14 pre-proposals as a first step in seeking 2016 funding. “There are many ideas coming out of the lab. I would have had more if I had been able to write all of them,” she says.

Learn about Tayebi’s two projects funded by Marquette’s strategic innovation fund: go.mu.edu/innovator-awardees. convergence

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Discover Magazine 2016