Endowed Positions Expand on Promising Discoveries
Joan E. Nichols, PhD, is on the cusp of creating bioengineered lungs, a revolutionary approach to organ transplantation that may produce viable new lungs from human tissues. And philanthropy makes this groundbreaking work possible.
Federal organizations like the National Institutes of Health often award funding after researchers have gathered preliminary data. Philanthropic support bridges that gap, enabling physician-scientists to develop and test ideas in early studies.
In July 2022, Nichols was appointed to the Dr. and Mrs. Alan L. Kaplan Centennial Chair in Cellular Therapeutics and Organ Bioengineering. The endowed chair gives her freedom to evaluate preclinical organ models that reduce the financial burden of drug development and increase the efficacy of therapies that make it to human trials.
“These models open the door to testing drug compounds that enhance wound healing, vascularization and even cell therapies,” she says.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 90% of drugs in phase 3 clinical trials never receive approval because they do not adequately treat the targeted disease or they carry risky side effects. To increase the number of safe and effective drugs approved for clinical trials, Nichols uses human cells to engineer 3D models more reflective of human disease.
For instance, Nichols evaluates the toxicity and efficacy of novel drugs for SARS-CoV-2 infection in her human lung model. She also produced a human pancreas model to support insulin-secreting islet cells, which may revolutionize the way diabetes is understood and treated.
“Why do we want a homeostatic pancreatic model?” she asks. “Many environmental factors may drive diabetes in people, but we don’t yet have a great way to assess them.”
With the generosity of visionary benefactors, Nichols and innovators like her are hastening discoveries to answer these — and so many more — critical questions.