Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine Awarded Up to $160 Million 10-Year US National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines Grant

January 26, 2024

The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) is the recipient of an inaugural U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Engines Program award. The NSF Engines: Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine is a regional project that provides an innovation ecosystem to stimulate workforce development, job creation, and economic growth through the development of technologies that benefit the emerging industry. The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine team is led by WFIRM, and includes Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC), North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T), the RegenMed Development Organization (ReMDO), and Winston Salem State University (WSSU).

Regenerative medicine, a multi-disciplinary field that involves engineering and science expertise, represents a shift in how human pathology is addressed. These products include biomaterials, tissue engineered products, and cells and agents that trigger natural pathways of regeneration. The hope of these products is to replace or restore function to tissues and organs compromised by injury or disease.

User-inspired technical challenges will be addressed in collaboration with partnered institutions through Innovation, Translation, and Education Cores (ITECs) that will be established, each focused on a broad area of unmet need. The ITECs will focus on Development and Manufacturing, Biomaterials, Cell Biology, In-Space Manufacturing, and Workforce Development and will be located with WFIRM, N.C. A&T, WSSU, ReMDO, and FTCC, respectively. 

The five ITECs bring together and draw upon the resources and talent available through the region and includes 12 focused components: WFIRM, partnering institutions of higher education, education and workforce development programs, ReMDO, the Regenerative Manufacturing Innovation Consortium, investment partners, non-profit organizations, economic development partners, government partners, the ReMDO Test Bed, ReMDO Innovation Accelerator with start-ups and emerging companies, and In-Space biomanufacturing in partnership with Axiom Space and the International Space Station. In-Space biomanufacturing will provide opportunities to explore a new frontier for tissue and organ regeneration in microgravity, adding significant forward-thinking engagement and workforce development through the in-space ITEC.

“We are excited to work with the NSF in the formation of a regenerative medicine engine that is centered on the development of use inspired products, training and commercialization, thereby expanding job opportunities and economic development to our region,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of WFIRM.

A network of mentorship opportunities and training across all aspects of the industry will be established through the program and deployed throughout the regional higher education system. Emphasis will be placed on inclusion of populations historically underrepresented in STEM-related industries at all levels, from technical skills to executives, through the three academic partners, N.C. A&T, WSSU, and Forsyth Tech.

“A significant challenge facing regenerative medicine is developing the professional and skilled technical workforce required to maintain the advances in the field,” explained Gary Green, EdD, Chief Workforce Development Officer for WFIRM. “Workforce development also represents a critical mechanism through which the Engine may make significant societal improvements within the region of service through increased opportunities for training and jobs.”

NSF Engines award provides $15 million for the first 2 years and up to $160 million for 10 years. "The inaugural NSF Engines awards demonstrate our enduring commitment to create opportunity everywhere and enable innovation anywhere," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "Through these NSF Engines, NSF aims to expand the frontiers of technology and innovation and spur economic growth across the nation through unprecedented investments in people and partnerships. NSF Engines hold significant promise to elevate and transform entire geographic regions into world-leading hubs of innovation."

WFIRM is located in Innovation Quarter, a vibrant, mixed-use innovation district located in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Anchored by Wake Forest University School of Medicine - the academic core of Advocate Health - Innovation Quarter is home to a community of more than 4,500 workers in 115 companies and four other institutions of higher learning. Innovation Quarter features developmental spaces and workspaces to allow expansion of small business and research facilities.

WFIRM would like to acknowledge the more than 80 partners of the program who showed unwavering support for this initiative, including regional academic institutions, non-profits, economic development agencies, and industrial, investment and government partners.

For more information about the NSF Engines: Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine, visit RegenMedEngine.com.

Launched by the NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships in May 2022, the NSF Engines program uniquely harnesses the nation's science and technology research, development enterprise and regional-level resources. For more information, visit the NSF Engines program website at https://new.nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/regional-innovation-engines.

Media Contact: Emily Gregg, egregg@wakehealth.edu