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Tissue Engineering Processes

The field of tissue engineering has transformed many areas of medicine, particularly reconstructive surgery and burn treatment, in the just 20 years since it began in the early 1980s. Techniques developed by this field's early pioneers, such as Gail K. Naughton, have made incredible procedures possible that earlier generations could have barely foreseen. As a result, thousands of patients worldwide now have less painful, more powerful treatment options for a range of afflictions from heart disease to diabetes to severe burns and torn ligaments. Naughton

New York native Naughton earned a B.S. in biology in 1976 from St. Francis College in Brooklyn. She went on to earn an M.S. degree in Histology from New York University Medical Center in 1978, and a Ph.D. in Hematology in 1981. While at NYU Medical Center, Naughton also served as an assistant professor of research; an instructor with the department of biology; and, from 1977 to 1981, as a supervisor in the clinical immunofluorescence lab. She also served as an assistant professor with the dept. of biology at Queensborough Community College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), from 1985 to 1987. She held the post of visiting professor with the Dept. of Pediatric Hematology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York from 1987-1989.

It was while pursuing post-doctoral studies in the Department of Dermatology at NYU Medical Center that Naughton made her first in what would become a long list of significant discoveries. At that time, around 1980, scientists who wished to grow cells in a lab for experimentation grew them in a growth medium on a flat surface, such as in a Petri dish. It became clear to Naughton, however, while she was involved in a study to observe the effects of certain drugs on tumors, that the cells behaved differently in this environment than they would behave inside their typical environment inside the human body.

She began working on a three-dimensional framework, thus, that would mimic the real-life conditions of cells as they would grow inside the human body. The framework could be manipulated to simulate varying conditions and types of cells. It also used bioreactors to "trick" cells into responding as if they actually were inside the body. For example, growing tissue would be pulled and stretched in the way it would be if it were inside a human being so that proteins might be secreted to make sections of the tissue stronger, the way a heart valve might be stressed inside a human heart, or a ligament might be pulled inside a foot or hand.

Naughton's technique proved successful, and was able to generate complex tissues that were virtually indistinguishable from those found in nature. However, at the time of her discovery, little work had been done in this area, and many of her ideas were met with skepticism. As a result she became skillful at presenting her research in a way that would garner further funding and support; this helped her develop entrepreneurial skills that would later land her in a variety of executive roles with major biotechnology companies, including her own.

In 1986 she founded Advanced Tissue Sciences in New York. She would later move the company to La Jolla, Calif., to take advantage of the biotech community that was beginning to develop in and around San Diego. The company went public in 1988, and Naughton received a patent for her matrix technology in 1990. She has held a variety of posts with the Advanced Tissue Sciences, such as executive vice president and COO, from 1991-1995; president and COO from 1995-2000; and president, from 2000-2002. In 2002 she was named vice chairman of the board of directors.

Meanwhile Naughton also developed a variety of other novel treatments and tissue engineering processes, garnering more than 80 U.S. and foreign patents and authoring some 160 publications over the course of her career. Of particular note, through a joint venture with Smith & Nephew, Advanced Tissue Sciences has brought several successful skin grafting products to market.

The firm's Transcyte product, for instance, is used to treat second- and third-degree burn patients. The temporary synthetic skin product covers wounds more effectively than other dressings with a low rate of rejection by the human body. It may be used to cover burn wounds while a patient's body sufficiently recovers to begin regenerating new skin on its own. A second product, Dermagraft, is used to repair skin wounds as well, but grafts itself to the patient's own tissue and becomes part of the person's body. It is used extensively to treat patients with diabetic foot ulcers.

Naughton's work has formed the basis for a wide and growing range of treatments and studies for nerve regeneration, periodontal surgery, bone healing, cartilage repair, anti-aging cosmetics, liver and other organ constructs and more. Her numerous honors and awards for this work include the 2000 Intellectual Property Owner's Association's National Inventor of the Year Award; and the 2002 Lindbergh-Carrel Prize from the Charles and Anne Lindbergh Foundation and the Alexis Carrel Foundation.

In 2001, Naughton completed an executive MBA with the Anderson School at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since August of 2002, and as of this 2006 writing, she serves as Dean of the College of Business Administration at San Diego State University. She is a member of numerous academic and industrial boards and professional organizations, and mother to three children.

[August 2006]

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