New UC Harris Lab studies solutions for nerve injuries

Spinal cord and traumatic peripheral nerve injuries puzzle researchers. Though the science and medical fields have made leaps in other areas, when it comes to severe nerve damage, medical professionals are at a loss. One new faculty member at the University of Cincinnati is trying to change that. 

Greg Harris, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering, recently started his own lab that focuses on engineering synthetic biomaterials to shape cellular outcomes. 

"We are interested in combining engineered polymers with native cells to provide a bioactive, instructional biomaterial to promote functional recoveries in nerve injuries," says Harris.

"When a severe injury occurs, the nerve itself is altered and can lose the structure and signals necessary to regenerate properly," he says. "Therefore, we need to give the nerve a template to be able to grow and reconnect across the injury."

Severe nerve injuries currently lack sufficient treatments. Harris and his team observe how cells and biomaterials interact and then apply different engineering strategies to try to restore lost function caused by the injury. 

The innovative research of the Harris Lab is a reflection of UC's strategic direction, Next Lives Here

Harris comes from a multidisciplinary background that includes an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and postdoctoral work in molecular biology. Speaking to this background, Harris ties it altogether through biomedical research.

Two graduate students and two undergraduate students currently assist Harris with his work in the lab.

"It's a joy being able to mentor students," he says. "Everyone is very motivated, and I am very happy with all the work we've put in getting the lab started and running."

On top of his research and teaching, Harris is also enjoying the transition from Iowa, his home state, and New Jersey, where he did postdoctoral work at Princeton University, to Ohio. With two young children, he is adapting to the change of scenery.

"We're already big fans of the Cincinnati Zoo," he says.

Harris hopes to establish the fundamental research that can lead to major revelations in the field of tissue engineering. With the Harris Lab up and running at UC, both he and his students have the resources to contribute to this field and eventually find surgical solutions for severe nerve injuries.

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