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UMBC professor receives $1.5 million grant to build organ-saving device

Stacy M. Brown | 9/29/2017, 6 a.m.
Gymama Slaughter, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, will develop ...
Dr. Gymama Slaughter and her team, which includes Johns Hopkins University associate professors Warren Grayson and Gerald Brandacher, will receive nearly $1.5 million over three years to develop a bioreactor that will extend the viability of lifesaving human organs and tissue for transplantation. Photo by Marlayna Demond

Gymama Slaughter, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, will develop a bioreactor to extend the viability of lifesaving human organs as they await transplant.

A bioreactor is a vessel that carries out a biological reaction and is used to culture aerobic cells for conducting cellular or enzymatic immobilization.

The Ghana-born Slaughter, who is also the director of the Bioelectronics Laboratory at UMBC, will be able to build the organ-saving device because of a major new grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command.

She and her team, which includes Johns Hopkins University associate professors Warren Grayson and Gerald Brandacher, will receive nearly $1.5 million over three years. They will create a bioreactor by integrating in-line sensors, mechanical stimulator, and blood perfusion system to more accurately and continuously monitor organs as they are transported for transplantation.

The team will also develop a system that closely mimics the organ’s natural environment.

Slaughter’s focus will be to develop metabolic sensors that continuously monitor the organ’s nitric oxide and oxygen levels while Grayson is tasked with creating a mechanical stimulator to keep the organ moving during the transportation process, so the organ tissue does not become rigid and die. Meanwhile, Brandacher will develop technology to continuously supply the organ or tissue with blood, to maintain viability, and will focus on the clinical aspects of the grant.

“Cell, tissue and organ transplants have become an increasing viable clinical treatment options for injured soldiers and veterans, and those types of transplants are severely limited by short preservation time in addition to tissue and, or, organ death that occur during that preservation period,” Slaughter said. “This new technology will significantly increase the efficacy of treatment

options for organ and reconstructive transplantation to enable soldiers and veterans to return to a highly-active and productive lifestyle.”

Slaughter and her seven siblings moved to America from Ghana when she was 12-years-old.

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Slaughter is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Career Award that recognizes junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through their work. She joined UMBC as an assistant professor in 2010.

Her research aspiration is to develop novel and powerful diagnostics tools that integrate nanotechnology with biology and electrochemistry, thereby enabling their applications in homeland security, medical diagnostics and environmental protection.

The funds received to build the organ-saving device will allow Slaughter and her team to design an instrument that they hope will ultimately help improve the quality of life for those in need of tissue or organ transplantation.

“Our multi-paramedic perfusion bio-reactor is designed to mimic the physiological microenvironment of tissue and organ, while using in-line bio-sensors to non-invasively monitor bio-makers of stress and functional activity to provide real-time feedback on organ health,” She said, when asked what might be the most important feature of the device.

Currently, organ and tissue donors typically need to be near transplant recipients due to limitations in organ transport. Some organs reportedly are only viable for about six hours, and they must be kept at very cool temperatures to remain feasible, so the transport process can be a race against time.

With technological improvements, the viability of the organs could be increased to about 36-hours, greatly expanding the distance an organ may be transported between donor and recipient.

Receiving the grant allows the team to be able to fully concentrate on developing the potentially life-saving device.

“The grant’s impact expands well beyond reconstructive transplantation, as the process that extends the viability of tissue can be applied to organs and whole extremity transplants as well,” Slaughter said. “This work also signals a dramatic change in future tissue and organ transplant preservation technologies.”

Slaughter noted that she has always been interested in saving lives and she draws inspiration from her family, including her mother, husband and three children.

“They always keep me on my toes,” Slaughter said. “They’re always there to encourage my crazy ideas.”