Main Line Health scientist attracts $1M gift to advance revolutionary research into scarless healing--even for age-associated chronic wounds

September 15, 2022

Ellen Heber-Katz, PhD, named inaugural chairholder of The Daniel B. and Florence E. Green Endowed Chair as drugs to generate new tissue draw closer

MERION STATION, Pa., Sept. 15, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Scientists had thought only starfish and amphibians like frogs and salamanders could heal wounds in a way that looked as if the injury never occurred, even regenerating entire limbs. Mammals—including humans—had lost the ability to generate new tissue to evolution.

This gift will accelerate the timetable for testing in humans and, I believe, bring a drug to market.—Ellen Heber-Katz

Then Ellen Heber-Katz, PhD, found a strain of laboratory mice that proved them wrong. Her mid-1990s discovery not only sparked hope for human scarless healing but triggered headlines worldwide.

Now, progress by the pioneering scientist, who came to the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR) (part of Main Line Health) with the mission to develop drugs activating the regeneration switch in humans, has attracted a $1 million donation aimed to support momentum toward this goal.

Dr. Heber-Katz was named inaugural chairholder of The Daniel B. and Florence E. Green Endowed Chair in Regenerative Medicine Research last night. The chair was established with a $1 million gift from The Green Family Foundation, paired with a $1 million match from the Lankenau Medical Center Foundation through its matching initiative designed to encourage large-scale, transformational philanthropic commitments.

"This gift will accelerate the timetable for testing in humans and, I firmly believe, bring a drug to market," Dr. Heber-Katz said.

Dr. Heber-Katz has two key products near the stage for human testing:

  • A drug in the form of a hydrogel. She and a research colleague at the University of California-Berkeley received a patent for the drug, which would be injected under the skin and is aimed at restoring chronic skin wounds as well as tissue damaged by natural aging. Wounds often do not heal for older people.

  • A suture infused with a compound that will limit scarring. LIMR has applied for domestic and international patents.

Dr. Heber-Katz also has a grant from the Department of Defense, whose interest was piqued by the possibility of healing wartime injuries such as lost fingers, hands and limbs.

She received funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research as well as she moved into treating bone loss from periodontal disease, a condition affecting a majority of Americans over their lifetimes.

LIMR President George Prendergast, PhD, called Dr. Heber-Katz's program "perhaps the most forward-looking and provocative at the Institute" and said it may accomplish what stem cells have yet to do.

The Green Family Foundation said it is honored to establish the endowed chair and both "recognize and amplify the remarkable research efforts of Heber-Katz."

Dr. Heber-Katz achieved her first breakthrough in 1996. That's when she discovered that a larger-than-usual strain of mice called MRL (Murphy Roths Large) could completely heal small holes in their ears without scarring (ear holes help to distinguish mice during research studies). The tissue didn't look like typical adult healing, instead appearing more embryonic. Dr. Heber-Katz soon discovered that MRL mice could even generate brand new tissue in damaged hearts.

In the 2000s, her work sparked international headlines, including "Just like Terminator, mouse ears will be back" (Chicago Tribune), "'Miracle mouse' can grow back lost limbs" (London Sunday Times), and "For a strain of mice, hearts can regenerate" (New York Times).

Heber-Katz has received federal funding for 80% percent of her research totaling $10.2 million. The remaining 20% ($2.2 million) is financed by nongovernmental resources.

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SOURCE Main Line Health

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