Biomedical Engineering Faculty Member Named 'Rising Star' for Cell Potency Work

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A biomedical engineering faculty member has been recognized for her work developing benchmarks in stem cell potency, establishing parameters to ensure the quality of cells used by researchers in their experiments and clinical trials.

Rebekah Samsonraj, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, was named a "Rising Star" by RoosterBio, a cell manufacturing company, for her work in identifying a new way to produce cells more effectively. Samsonraj also received a $12,000 development award from the company to support her research.

Samsonraj's research focuses on a specific type of stem cell known as a mesenchymal stem cells. Known as MSCs, the cells are able to differentiate into a variety of cell types, including bone, cartilage, muscle and fat cells. MSCs could be used in treatments for diseases such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and cartilage degeneration.

One of the major issues in MSC research is the scalability of the cells — they are difficult to reproduce, which leads to a bottleneck for researchers, Samsonraj said. Samsonraj has identified a biomarker that indicates which cells are good candidates for reproduction and has proposed using gene editing to spread those traits to more cells, ultimately making MSCs more widely available.

For the development project, she will work with Chris Nelson, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, on the gene editing portion of the study. Nelson's research program focuses on gene editing technologies and gene regulation in regenerative medicine and wound healing.

Samsonraj said the research could also be applied to MSCs derived from any tissue source, not limited to bone marrow or fat tissues.

"This work holds significant translational potential because of its ease of utility and relevance to cell manufacturing," she said.

Samsonraj joined the University of Arkansas from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where she completed her postdoctoral research and served as an assistant professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.  She also served as a research faculty member at the University of Oregon Knight Campus.

"This is a significant recognition for Rebekah as she starts building her research program focused on cellular therapies and biomanufacturing," said Raj Rao, head of the department of biomedical engineering. "Incorporating quality control protocols within bioprocessing strategies is extremely important in ensuring that we have homogeneous populations prior to use in cell therapies. I am extremely proud of Rebekah for tackling this important research theme in her research."

Samsonraj said the recognition was an honor. 

"I'm humbled," she said. "It's an honor and a privilege. I definitely couldn't have done this by myself. I'm thankful for the encouragement and support of my doctoral mentors, my postdoc mentors, and the Department for giving me the opportunity to succeed."

Contacts

Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering
479-575-5697, ndemoss@uark.edu

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