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WSSU a partner in innovation engines program in North Carolina, awarded up to $160M in 10-year grant

Winston-Salem State University is a part of an inaugural U.S. National Science Foundation Engines Program award that provides $15 million for the first two years and up to $160 million for 10 years.

The U.S. National Science Foundation announced earlier this year two of the first-ever National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) as a part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda: The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine and the North Carolina Sustainable Textiles Innovation Engine, both anchored in North Carolina.

The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine team is led by the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM), which received the award, and includes as partners WSSU, Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC), North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) and the RegenMed Development Organization (ReMDO).

Regenerative medicine, a multi-disciplinary field that involves engineering and science expertise, represents a shift in how human pathology is addressed. These products include biomaterials, tissue engineered products, and cells and agents that trigger natural pathways of regeneration. The hope of these products is to replace or restore function to tissues and organs compromised by injury or disease.

User-inspired technical challenges will be addressed in collaboration with partnered institutions through Innovation, Translation, and Education Cores (ITECs) that will be established, each focused on a broad area of unmet need. The ITECs will focus on Development and Manufacturing, Biomaterials, Cell Biology, In-Space Manufacturing, and Workforce Development and will be located with WFIRM, N.C. A&T, WSSU, ReMDO and FTCC, respectively. 

The five ITECs bring together and draw upon the resources and talent available through the region and includes 12 focused components: WFIRM, partnering institutions of higher education, education and workforce development programs, ReMDO, the Regenerative Manufacturing Innovation Consortium, investment partners, non-profit organizations, economic development partners, government partners, the ReMDO Test Bed, ReMDO Innovation Accelerator with start-ups and emerging companies, and In-Space biomanufacturing in partnership with Axiom Space and the International Space Station. In-Space biomanufacturing will provide opportunities to explore a new frontier for tissue and organ regeneration in microgravity, adding significant forward-thinking engagement and workforce development through the in-space ITEC.

“NSF's investment in innovation in the Piedmont Triad region highlights the strong, established collaborative efforts between WSSU, WFU School of Medicine, and NCA&T and is a testament to Dr. Jill Keith’s commitment to research and training students and faculty at WSSU,” said Shawn Holt, associate provost for Research & Innovation at WSSU. Keith is WSSU’s principal investigator for the NSF Engines program. She is a biochemistry professor in the Department of Chemistry, interim director of the WSSU Biomedical Research Infrastructure Center and an adjunct professor at Wake Forest University Health Sciences (WFUHS) in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology.

“We are excited to work with the NSF in the formation of a regenerative medicine engine that is centered on the development of use inspired products, training and commercialization, thereby expanding job opportunities and economic development to our region,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of WFIRM.

A network of mentorship opportunities and training across all aspects of the industry will be established through the program and deployed throughout the regional higher education system. Emphasis will be placed on inclusion of populations historically underrepresented in STEM-related industries at all levels, from technical skills to executives, through the three academic partners, N.C. A&T, WSSU, and Forsyth Tech.

“The inaugural NSF Engines awards demonstrate our enduring commitment to create opportunity everywhere and enable innovation anywhere,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Through these NSF Engines, NSF aims to expand the frontiers of technology and innovation and spur economic growth across the nation through unprecedented investments in people and partnerships. NSF Engines hold significant promise to elevate and transform entire geographic regions into world-leading hubs of innovation.”

Wake Forest News contributed to this article.


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