National Science Foundation names two Innovation Engines in NC, announces $30M in new investments to region

WFIRM also selected to lead AFIRM Consortium

The U.S. National Science Foundation on Friday announced two of the first-ever NSF Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines), both in North Carolina. 

The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine and the North Carolina Sustainable Textiles Innovation Engine will each initially receive up to $15 million for two years and up to $160 million over 10 years. 

The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine team is led by the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) and includes Forsyth Technical Community College, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T), the RegenMed Development Organization (ReMDO), and Winston Salem State University (WSSU). The North Carolina Biotechnology Center and its Piedmont Triad regional office are partners of the Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine.WFIRM logo

NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan and First Lady Jill Biden announced the funding during a visit to Forsyth Tech on Friday to tour the lab facilities and hear from local North Carolinians who will lead the Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine. NSF will announce additional NSF Engines across the nation in the coming days.

“I am delighted to be with Dr. Biden today in North Carolina to announce a key investment made possible by the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “This groundbreaking investment in place-based science and technology research and development will spur economic growth and catalyze breakthrough technologies in regenerative medicine and textile manufacturing. 

“This will no doubt generate regional job growth and economic development in the regions served by these two NSF Engines delivering on NSF’s priority to create opportunities everywhere and innovations anywhere across the nation,” Panchanathan said.

The two NSF Engines awardees are focused on regenerative medicine and driving innovation in textile manufacturing in regions anchored in North Carolina. Initially 188 organizations across the country applied for this funding opportunity. The NSF announced 34 semifinalists last spring and 16 finalists last summer. 

“The NSF announcement continues to reinforce how important WFIRM and its work is to North Carolina, both as a life sciences innovator and an economic development driver,” said Doug Edgeton, president and CEO of NCBiotech. “Our state, and really the world, will benefit from what the Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine will produce.”

The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine, based in Winston-Salem, will tap the world’s largest regenerative medicine cluster to create and scale breakthrough clinical therapies, contributing to a growing industry that is key to healthcare delivery. It will work to provide an innovation ecosystem to stimulate workforce development, job creation, and economic growth through the development of technologies that benefit the emerging industry.

“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.

WFIRM is recognized as an international leader in translating scientific discovery into clinical therapies. Physicians and scientists at WFIRM were the first in the world to engineer laboratory-grown organs that were successfully implanted into humans. 

“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.”

WFIRM, part of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, is located in the Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem and has collaborations with over 400 entities and institutions worldwide, through its government, academic and industry partnerships, its start-up entities, and through major initiatives in breakthrough technologies, such as tissue engineering, cell therapies, diagnostics, drug discovery, biomanufacturing, nanotechnology, gene editing and 3D printing.

“The Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine has the potential to not only advance regenerative medicine but drive economic development in this region and the entire state,” said Nancy Johnston, executive director of NCBiotech’s Piedmont Triad office.

The North Carolina Sustainable Textiles Innovation Engine, based in Raleigh and Gaston and spanning parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, will revolutionize the $90 billion textile industry by developing sustainable fabrics. The awards are a part of the President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, which has mobilized $31 billion of private sector investments in manufacturing and clean energy in North Carolina alone.

NSF Engines represent one of the single largest broad investments in place-based research and development in the nation's history – uniquely placing science and technology leadership as the central driver for regional economic competitiveness. The announcement delivers on the bipartisan priorities outlined in the "CHIPS and Science Act of 2022," which authorized the NSF Engines program. Launched in May 2022, the NSF Engines program harnesses the nation's science and technology R&D enterprise and regional-level resources.

WFIRM selected to lead AFIRM Consortium

Earlier in the week, WFIRM announced that it was selected to lead the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) Consortium. The project - a $40 million, five year-long award from the Defense Health Agency (DHA) - will focus on taking regenerative medicine solutions for battlefield injuries to the next level, and ultimately to the general public.

Regenerative medicine is a science that takes advantage of the body's natural abilities to restore or replace damaged tissue and organs. WFIRM has managed two prior AFIRM consortia since 2008 that resulted in over 20 clinical studies for innovative regenerative medicine therapies, including new treatments for burns and limb, genitourinary, facial and skull injuries.

This 2023 initiative by the US Army Medical Research and Development Command (MRDC) and Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) will renew efforts from previous projects while bringing original ideas and the latest technologies to the research. The goal is to bring measurable acceleration to clinical products through robust partnerships.

The team will focus on developing clinical therapies over the next five years in the areas of craniofacial regeneration, extremity regeneration, genitourinary/lower abdomen, skin and wound healing, on-demand blood, and cellular therapies for trauma.

Chris Capot, NCBiotech
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