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Student Innovation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks to Mend Previously Untreatable Tissue Injuries

Christopher Rivet Is One of Three Finalists for the $30,000 2012 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize

Christopher Rivet has successfully married two powerful bioengineering technologies to develop a new method for delivering drugs directly to an injury site and jumpstarting the process of tissue regeneration. His innovation could be an important new tool in preventing paralysis resulting from spinal cord trauma, cancer, diabetes, or a host of other diseases.

Rivet, a doctoral student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is one of three finalists for the 2012 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. A public ceremony announcing this year’s winner will be held at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7, in the auditorium of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. For more information on the ceremony visit:

Rivet’s project is titled “A Hydrogel and Electrospun Fiber Composite Material,” and his faculty adviser is Ryan Gilbert, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer.

Sadly, there is no shortage of situations that lead to a loss of functioning tissue and, in turn, paralysis. These circumstances can range from the surgical removal of a tumor, to untreated bedsores, to a spinal cord injury stemming from a gunshot wound or traffic accident. All of these situations require action first to stop the progression of the injury, and secondly to restore function to the damaged tissue. However, there is currently no treatment, short of receiving a transplant from a donor, to simultaneously pursue both goals and more effectively mitigate the onset of paralysis.

Rivet’s patent-pending invention pairs electrospun fibers with hydrogels to help solve this important societal need. He has developed a new way to disperse nanoscopic electrospun fibers, which can prompt and guide tissue regeneration, within injectable, drug-infused hydrogels. The result is an advanced biomaterial that can mimic and serve as a temporary replacement for living tissue.

For example, potential target could be a patient who had a large bone tumor removed, leaving behind a hole that is too large for the body to recover from on its own. The surgeon may elect to use a hydrogel. Injected as a liquid, the hydrogel would firm up and fill in the unique shape of the void. Hydrogels can be treated with different drugs to help stop progression of the injury, and the gels can be tuned to match the mechanical properties of the tissue their replacing. However, hydrogels cannot carry the appropriate chemical cues to guide regenerative nerve cells into and out of the injury site. This means hydrogels alone are not a winning strategy for combating the onset of paralysis.

Rivet has incorporated electrospun fibers, which are spun from polymer and can carry guidance cues and promote functional recovery, into hydrogels. The end result is a complex system that can deliver multiple drugs as well as the necessary guidance cues to coax nerve cells through the injury site and kick start the process of regeneration. As the patient’s body tissue regenerates, the hydrogels and electrospun fibers simply dissolve harmlessly. Rivet’s system is also highly adaptable, as different electrospun fibers can be matched with various hydrogels to achieve specific goals.

When not in the lab or classroom, Rivet enjoys spending time outdoors. If he’s not skiing, cycling, or hiking, you can probably find him on the lake fishing. At home in Grand Blanc, Mich., Rivet’s family and friends are rooting for him to win the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. His mother is a high school math and science teacher and his father works for the United Auto Workers labor union. Rivet’s older sister is a laboratory manager at Kettering University.

Rivet was curious and creative as a young student, and he strives to foster those virtues in others. He is an active mentor in local elementary schools and high schools, sparking the interest of students and encouraging them to seek out opportunities to study and work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. He also mentors several undergraduate students at Rensselaer.

Rivet received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Michigan Technological University, and his master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from Wayne State University. He recently won a 2012 Endeavor Research Fellowship from the Australian Department of Education to fund a six-month research program at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

About the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize

The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has awarded the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995.

Celebrating innovation, inspiring youth
The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering. The Foundation sparks, sustains, and celebrates innovation and the inventive spirit. It supports projects in the U.S. and developing countries that nurture innovators and unleash invention to advance economic, social, and environmentally sustainable development. To date The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than U.S. $150 million in support of its mission.

For information on the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, visit:

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Michael Mullaney
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY
Visit the Rensselaer research and discovery blog:
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Michael Mullaney | Newswise Science News
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