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'Progress Notes' covers clinical innovations, research

As a Southerner by birth but a recent transplant from Minnesota, I welcomed trading blizzards for palm trees when I accepted the position of managing editor of "Progress Notes." I think it only fitting that the February issue, the first issue I have written, features an alligator on the cover — a tribute to my new Lowcountry home.

Kimberly McGheeKimberly McGhee

This column will cover highlights from "Progress Notes," a bimonthly publication for doctors that covers the clinical innovations and exciting research under way here that could revolutionize the medicine of tomorrow. It's why there's an alligator on the cover as a tribute to the work of Louis Guillette Jr., Ph.D., who studies how environmental pollutants affect human reproductive health by monitoring changes caused by them in wildlife, such as the alligator.

Alligators, like canaries in a mine, alert us to a danger in the local environment. Guillette has documented underdevelopment or malformation of alligator reproductive organs that can be traced back to exposure to environmental toxins, such as those that can be traced to pesticides, plastics, industrial solvents, and personal care products like lotions and shampoos.

His findings have led him to believe that many diseases or disorders found in adult women, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids, can be traced back to environmental exposure to toxins as well.

Also covered in this issue is the research being done at the new Bioengineering Building. The work of these researchers is quickly blurring the lines between science fiction and scientific fact.

Take, for example, the tissue-based pacemaker being developed by Martin Morad, Ph.D. When I think of a pacemaker, I see a battery-operated device that is put in a patient, must be replaced every so often, and sets off airport scanners.
The pacemaker Morad hopes to develop, on the other hand, would never need replacing. It could change the heart rate to meet the body's changing needs (for example, speeding it up for jogging). One of the best features is that it would introduce nothing foreign into the body. A patient's own skin cells would be transformed into cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells and then developed into cardiac cells that could be injected into the heart to naturally control its pacing.

Another fascinating area is the regrowth of brain or spinal tissue after serious injury, a feat once thought impossible. Celebrities like Superman actor Christopher Reeve have drawn attention to the need to encourage cutting-edge research into tissue regeneration. The number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries makes that need more pressing than ever.

Xuejun Wen, M.D., Ph.D., and Ning Zhang, Ph.D., of the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program, have found a way to promote the regrowth of brain tissue. Wen and Zhang have developed a hydrogel — a liquid that becomes gelatinous after being administered — that can be injected into the empty cavity in the brain left by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The hydrogel provides a base on which blood vessels can regrow, the first step in regrowing brain tissue. Such hydrogels may one day restore function to those with brain and spinal cord injury.

Another area of research offering hope is the work being done by the Center for Biomedical Imaging, headed by Joseph A. Helpern, Ph.D. Many fear one day developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia, but right now there is no way to know who is more likely to do so. Helpern's group uses new imaging techniques to search for early, tiny changes in brain tissue that predict who will develop such diseases. Early detection could one day mean earlier, more effective treatment.

To read more about the work of bioengineers as well as other clinical and research innovations at MUSC, visit the February issue of "Progress Notes," available at

Editor's note: "Progress Notes" is a bimonthly publication produced by Business Development & Marketing Services and sent to all physicians licensed in South Carolina to inform them about clinical and research innovations at MUSC.




Friday, March 2, 2012

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.