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New UC Harris Lab Engineers Solutions for Nerve Injuries

Greg Harris, a UC chemical and environmental engineering assistant professor, engineers bio-materials as solutions for traumatic nerve injuries.

Date: 3/8/2018 10:00:00 AM
By: Brandon Pytel
Phone: (513) 556-4686
Greg Harris headshot
Harris focuses on engineering synthetic biomaterials that can shape cellular outcomes.

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, due to the complexity of the nervous system, medical professionals are at a loss. One new faculty member at the University of Cincinnati is trying to change that. 

Greg Harris, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering, was hired this past year as part of the College of Engineering and Applied Science’s (CEAS) 50-in-5 Mission. His new Harris Lab focuses on engineering synthetic biomaterials that can 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. 

Harris comes from a multidisciplinary background that includes an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, a PhD 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.

In the years to come, 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 the field and eventually find surgical solutions for these severe nerve injuries.