Senior engineering students and faculty at the University of Florida in Gainesville are partnering with biotech cell and gene therapy company Morphogenesis, Inc. in Tampa to design an advanced, fully automated cell separation system capable of capturing rare cells – such as stem cells – and circulating tumor cells.
The device is based on Polymer Antibody Cell Separator (PACS™) technology, and is patented by Morphogenesis Inc. It will significantly advance the speed and efficiency of rare cell isolation from large volumes of complex mixtures of cells, such as blood and bone marrow, for use in regenerative therapies and the management of cancers.
The project is being directed by Drs. Michael and Patricia Lawman, co-founders of Morphogenesis, and Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Keith Stanfill, who is director of the Integrated Product and Process Design (IPPD) program at University of Florida College of Engineering.
A team consisting of six senior engineering students (code name "cellparation") are collaborating on the project. They represent mechanical, electrical, biomedical and chemical engineering, and they expect to have a functioning prototype of the device completed in the second quarter of 2015. Their advisor is UF Engineering Professor Carlos Rinaldi, who is joint faculty in both the Department of Chemical Engineering, and the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering.
"Having our students participate in IPPD projects, such as this one with Morphogenesis, is exciting because it helps realize the department's mission of training future generations of biomedical engineers who will advance and improve healthcare in the State of Florida and worldwide," said Rinaldi. "Mike and Pat Lawman are great examples of scientists who began their careers in academia and then transitioned to starting a company to commercialize their discoveries. I think they are excellent role models and I am happy to see my students interact so closely with them."
The students' new prototype of the patented Morphogenesis cell separation system will be capable of identifying, capturing and releasing rare cells while maintaining cell viability and function.
"We are so grateful to UF's College of Engineering, in particular the faculty and students, for undertaking this project within IPPD," said co-inventor Dr. Pat Lawman. "Our gratitude also extends to the J. Crayton Pruitt Foundation Inc. of St. Petersburg for their generosity in funding this project."
After J. Crayton Pruitt, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, had a heart attack and a subsequent heart transplant at UF Health Shands Hospital in 1995, he credited UF's new biomedical engineering department as playing a critical role in saving his life.
"Afterwards, Dad decided to make a significant donation to the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and so it bears his name today," said Pruitt's son, Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Jr., who is also a renowned thoracic surgeon, recently retired. "Absolutely, the amazing work they did saved his life." The Pruitt family continues to play an important role in advancing biomedical engineering at UF.
The Lawmans said they are enjoying working with the UF students. "The highlight of our week is the weekly "go-to" meeting with the cellparation team," said the Lawmans. "These students are a great testament to the quality of education at UF and exemplify the dedication it takes to take a project from its concept to a tangible product."
"Partnering with Morphogenesis on this design project – this revolutionary cell separation device – is providing our senior undergraduate engineering students with an opportunity to contribute to cutting edge research," said Stanfill. "During this process, the students are learning to work in a multi-disciplinary team with a remote client (Morphogenesis). They're producing technical deliverables such as project plans, testing plans, detailed equipment design documents, and technical reports. And they are learning to get work completed on time and within budget. We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Morphogenesis to move their technology forward, while also providing an unparalleled educational opportunity for our students."