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Meet Teja Guda ’08. This UTSA alumnus and biomedical engineering assistant professor is working on the cutting edge of tissue research, work that by his own admission could be called “very sci-fi.”
Can you tell us what you do?
“We’re developing materials for regenerative medicine,” he said.
People are injured in car accidents or in combat every day and suffer tissue damage. However, there are several different types of tissues at damage sites, which makes it a challenge to repair an injury effectively. Guda is researching alternatives to amputation and has already developed a material out of speaker foam to help grow new bones.
“If you came into an operating room and said, ‘We can solve this using tissue engineering,’ you’d get laughed out of the room because it’s so complex,” he said. “I can see, down the road, being able to offer people a very viable alternative to amputation.”
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
Guda spent most of his life in Bombay, India. He moved to San Antonio to pursue his Ph.D. at UTSA and has been at the university on and off for the past 12 years.
“I grew up in a really, really big city and I wanted to move to San Antonio for a slightly slower pace of life,” he said.
Guda was inspired to come to UTSA after hearing a talk by C. Mauli Agrawal, Peter Flawn Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Vice President for Research, about the UTSA biomedical engineering Ph.D. program. Guda became one of UTSA’s first biomedical engineering students.
He joined the faculty in 2014 at the start of UTSA’s GoldStar Initiative. The program aims to further advance UTSA to Tier One status by recruiting more top-tier researchers to expand the university’s world-class faculty.
What is your educational background?
Guda attended India’s premiere institution for engineering, the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay where did a Bachelors in mechanical Engineering.
“It’s a very rigid system of education,” he said. “I really wanted to explore. UTSA allowed to me to explore a lot of biomedical engineering and allowed me to focus on what I wanted to work on. The College of Engineering let me branch out and come into my own on the research side.”
Guda is a mechanical engineer by training, and confesses he’s still wired that way, looking at the human body as a machine. Tissue engineering fascinated him, he said, because it’s on the cutting edge of research, but also because it allowed him to explore more how the machine works.
“San Antonio felt like the old west and I had that pioneering spirit,” Guda said. “But the biggest determinant for focusing on tissue engineering was knowing that it was going to affect someone’s quality of life and that’s what keeps it exciting on a daily basis.”
He goes back to India to visit every few years. During a trip there this summer, he was invited back to his alma mater to talk about his work.
“I never, ever thought that would happen,” he said. “They gave me an honorary check, and I’ll never cash it because it’s already framed on my parents’ wall.”
How does your work benefit the community?
The biomedical engineering program at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has acquired a rare piece of equipment that can print tissues and potentially regenerate organs. The device works similarly to a 3-D printer and is now a part of the laboratory of biomedical engineering.
“There aren’t very many organ printers in the world,” Guda said. “We wanted to explore this new space in regenerative medicine since so many at UTSA have those strengths.”
The device is capable of printing cells and keeping them from dying as they would in a traditional 3-D printer, because it operates without heating or high pressure.
“Essentially we’re creating our own materials with embedded living cells,” Guda said. “We load them up in little syringes, insert them into the machine, and it prints the organ layer by layer. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques, it allows for very thin, complex architectures.”
Guda and his team of graduate students have begun testing the printer with silicone and will soon move into printing grafts for bones, skeletal muscle, pancreas tissue and salivary glands with cell samples from rats. Their research is one of many top-tier examples of the promising biomedical engineering research projects underway at UTSA.
“The proof is in the pudding when we transplant the organ back into the animal and are able to see if it works like the original tissues or organs would,” he said.
Because the organs are printed from a gel of living cells, the challenge is to make sure the organ keeps it shape and the cells stay alive once it’s been printed. The device is also expected to support research into the complications of organ transplantation, including tissue compatibility and survival.
“Transplantation of tissues is a huge challenge because they’re not always successful and they’re limited in supply,” Guda said. “If we’re able to make transplantation significantly more successful, that’s huge.”
According to Guda, the printer might also help engineers print a replacement for a person’s damaged organs, which he predicts will be possible in less than 10 years.
“This is a building block for the future,” he said. “Our students will benefit greatly from having this experience. As a university, we’ve gotten in on the ground floor.”