Treena Livingston Arinzeh
Dr. Treena Livingston Arinzeh has always had a passion for math and science. But when her high school teacher suggested she pursue engineering, she couldn’t picture it because she had never met an African American engineer. Luckily for medical science, she gave engineering a try–earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, and a PhD in bioengineering. It was during her undergraduate studies that she began to understand the power of applying engineering principles to medicine, particularly through the use of stem cells.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can become any type of cell in the body, but they need something to adhere to–a scaffold. Arinzeh has shown that adult stem cells paired with the appropriate scaffold can help repair some of the most difficult-to-treat tissues in the human body, such as spinal cord and bone. Her research team developed a method to repair bone damaged by trauma or tumors by creating a demineralized bone matrix from donor tissue that becomes the scaffold to support bone-building adult stem cells. And because Arinzeh works with stem cells from adult bone marrow, she hasn’t faced any of the ethical controversies that tend to plague embryonic stem cell research.
A second critical discovery Arinzeh has made is that stem cells from one person can be implanted in another without causing an adverse immune response. This means patients who receive donor stem cells may not need immunosuppression therapy, which can lead to infection, osteoporosis, or organ damage.
Arinzeh is also concerned with the state of women in STEM. She says, “I think [African American women] don’t see enough of us that look like them so they can identify with that career as something they can actually do.” She invites 40 to 50 underrepresented high school students to her lab each summer to show them that biomedical research is a viable career option.
Written by Nicole Hutchison