Health & Environment

UTMB, Texas A&M University To Establish Center For Women’s And Pregnancy Health Research

A five-year, $7.5 million grant will fund an initiative to use technology to create reliable tools to advance the development of drugs.
By University of Texas Medical Branch June 21, 2024

Doctor listening breath of baby in pregnant female abdomen
University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas A&M University researchers are collaborating on women’s and pregnancy health research, supported by a $7.5 million grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

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The University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas A&M University have received a $7.5 million grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to establish a center dedicated to promoting women’s and pregnancy health research.

“We are honored to receive this grant from NCATS, which will enable us to advance research in women’s health and pregnancy,” said Dr. Ramkumar Menon, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UTMB and the center’s contact principal investigator.

This major initiative aims to use an existing, cutting-edge technology called Microphysiological Systems (MPS), or “organ-on-a-chip,” to replicate all aspects of the human female reproductive organs involved in pregnancy as a drug development tool. This approach will also reduce the use of animal models in research.

The UTMB-Texas A&M partnership is one of four centers funded by NCATS and the only center that will conduct pregnancy and women’s health research. The five-year grant will establish the Translational Center for Microphysiological Systems Based Drug Development Tools for Pregnancy and Women’s Health.

UTMB will operate as the central hub for coordinating activities across a laboratory at UTMB and two others at Texas A&M.

“Our goal is to create reliable drug development tools, ultimately improving regulatory decision-making processes and advancing medical science in these critical areas,” Menon said. “Pregnant women and their fetuses are therapeutic orphans and clinical trials do not include them. With the tools developed, we will work with NCATS and the FDA to accelerate clinical trials during pregnancy in the future and reduce complications like preterm birth.”

The core functions of the Translational Center for Microphysiological Systems Based Drug Development Tools for Pregnancy and Women’s Health are managing administration and finances, integrating research, ensuring quality control of drug development tools, getting FDA approval for these tools, and translating research into commercial applications. The center will also focus on disseminating its knowledge to academic researchers, government agencies, and industry end-users, ensuring that the benefits of this research reach a broad audience.

“We believe this center will become a leading force in women’s and pregnancy health research, providing valuable resources and expertise to the scientific community and beyond,” Menon said.

Menon will be joined in the team of principal investigators by Dr. Arum Han and Dr. Ivan Rusyn, both from Texas A&M.

Han, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, will lead the center’s activities on manufacturing of the MPS used in drug development.

“Translating the MPS platforms we have developed into the hands of drug developers and pharmaceutical companies through this center will be an exciting new endeavor, truly bringing positive impacts to women’s health and pregnancy, together with my long-term collaborators, Drs. Menon and Rusyn,” Han said. “By supporting the qualification of MPS devices representing female reproductive systems, we hope to fill a critical gap in drug development tools.”

Rusyn, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will lead MPS qualification efforts of the center.

“We are excited to partner with Drs. Menon and Han to utilize the experience in MPS testing and qualification that we acquired through TEX-VAL Tissue Chip Testing Consortium,” Rusyn said. “The independent verification of the performance of MPS is a critical activity for end-user confidence and we are looking forward to working with our current TEX-VAL partners in the industry and government to ensure fit-for-purpose validation.”

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences is part of the National Institutes of Health. NCATS focuses on improving the translational process so that new treatments and cures for diseases can be delivered to patients faster. These include scientific, operational, financial, and administrative innovations that transform the way that research is done, making it faster, more efficient, and more impactful.

Media contact: Jennifer Gauntt, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216

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