Pixie Dust: The fine line between medicine and magic

The Science Behind Prevention and Treatment of Cell Injury

A busy executive has a heart attack. A professional athlete gets a concussion. A brave soldier steps on a landmine. A grandparent loses precious memories to Alzheimer's disease. What do these people have in common? They all suffer from cell injury.

Unfortunately, humans can't regenerate heart, brain or muscle cells the way a salamander regrows a limb. At least not yet. But at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, we believe that day may be close at hand.

“Heart care. Cancer care. Neurological care. Transplantation care. Trauma care. Post-surgery care. The pixie dust applications are endless. ” Click to tweet this story

The Science Behind Prevention and Treatment of Cell Injury

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine researchers are working to engineer a special protein that will allow the human body to regenerate and repair damaged tissues.

Jianjie Ma, PhD, professor and Karl P. Klassen Chair of Thoracic Surgery in Ohio State's Department of Surgery, has studied this regenerative protein for years, uncovering its functions as a "molecular bandage."

The protein is named MG53, though Dr. Ma often calls it "pixie dust" because its wide-ranging healing properties seem positively magical.

"Over the past few years, we've found that MG53 can function to prevent and treat injuries to the heart, kidney, brain, skin and lungs," Dr. Ma says.

Dr. Ma and his research team of post-docs, fellows and students believe the protein will not only enhance healing, but also reverse the cell death process altogether at a molecular level.

However, translating laboratory findings into treatments for patients is no small task. That's why our researchers at Ohio State's College of Medicine regularly collaborate with patient care teams to help turn Dr. Ma's basic research into clinical applications faster than at other academic medical centers

Dr. Ma explains how a discovery made in his lab revealed a substance that helps injured cells or tissue repair themselves.

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Diverse Applications Require Diverse Teams and Thinking

Dr. Ma came to Ohio State six years ago when he realized the close proximity his research teams would have to translational and clinical facilities. Everything he needed was right here on our vibrant Columbus campus. He knew The Ohio State University was poised to drive basic research to application and clinical trials. "It's why I came, and it's why I stay," he says with a smile.

Dr. Ma enjoys being part of diverse, cross-functional teams across campus. "When you're solving complicated problems, nobody can do it alone," he explains.

In Dr. Ma's experience, the most successful teams are bound together with complementary synergy, focused on one goal – expanding the science of true biology. "There is no room for selfishness or ego in our teamwork," Dr. Ma says. "We all work together as one body, with many different parts. Each person is infinitely valuable."

Growing a solid team of collaborative researchers remains Dr. Ma's number one priority. He remains committed to mentoring a new generation of leaders who will not only be recognized and celebrated in their own right, but will also help bring this pixie dust magic to life.

Collaborating Care Teams at the Wexner Medical Center:

  • Cardiothoracic Surgery
  • Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Organ Transplantation
  • Trauma, Critical Care and Burn
  • OSUCCC – James Center for Cognitive and Memory Disorders

Collaborating Colleges at The Ohio State University:

  • College of Medicine
  • College of Veterinary Medicine
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Pharmacy
  • College of Optometry
  • College of Public Health

Ma's research has powerful implications for the medical, pharmaceutical and personal care industries – and the possibilities are limitless from a public health perspective.

Leading in regenerative medicine means doing basic research differently. While many researchers work with stem cells and gene therapy, Dr. Ma uses the MG53 protein for its broader application potential.

Practical next steps may include clinical trials and commercialization, starting with simpler solutions that will in turn fund bolder, more complex endeavors. Dr. Ma and his team hope to develop the protein as a therapeutic drug for human use in the next 10 years.

The Ohio State College of Medicine's regenerative medicine research enhances the whole field – but there is still a great deal left to be translated. Dr. Ma's research team goal is simple: take findings from the lab and use them to innovate and heal.

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