13 March 2023
Interview with Dr. Anthony Atala—Editorial Board Member of Bioengineering

We had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Anthony Atala, Editorial Board Member of Bioengineering (ISSN: 2306-5354), to discuss the recent trends in the field and his personal career developments.

Anthony Atala, M.D., is the G. Link Professor and Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the W. Boyce Professor and Chair of the Department of Urology at Wake Forest University, USA. His work focuses on growing human cells, tissues, and organs. Sixteen technological applications developed in Dr. Atala's laboratory have been employed clinically in human patients.

Dr. Atala was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences (now the National Academy of Medicine), to the National Academy of Inventors as a Charter Fellow, and to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. Dr. Atala is a recipient of the US Congress funded Christopher Columbus Foundation Award, bestowed on a living American who is currently pursuing a discovery that will significantly affect society; the World Technology Award in Health and Medicine, for achieving significant and lasting progress; the Edison Science/Medical Award; the Fast Company World Changing Ideas Award; the R&D Innovator of the Year Award; the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award; and the 2022 Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons for his pioneering work in regenerative medicine.

Dr. Atala’s work was listed twice in Time Magazine’s top ten medical breakthroughs of the year, and as one of five discoveries that will change the future of organ transplantation. In 2019, Dr. Atala’s work was ranked by the Project Management Institute as one of the top ten most impactful biotech projects of the past 50 years. Dr. Atala was named by Scientific American as one of the world’s most influential people in biotechnology, by U.S. News & World Report as one of fourteen pioneers of medical progress in the 21st century, by Life Sciences Intellectual Property Review as one of fifty key influencers in the life sciences intellectual property arena, and by Nature Biotechnology as one of the top ten translational researchers in the world.

Dr. Atala has led or served on several national professional and government committees, including the National Institutes of Health work group on Cells and Developmental Biology, the National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Consortium, and the National Cancer Institute’s Advisory Board. He was a Founder of the Tissue Engineering Society, the Regenerative Medicine Society, the Regenerative Medicine Foundation, the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, the Regenerative Medicine Development Organization, the Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Society, and the Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Consortium.

Dr. Atala works with several journals in a variety of capacities, including as Editor-in-Chief of Stem Cells Translational Medicine, Therapeutic Advances in Urology, and BioPrinting. He is the editor of 25 books, has published more than 800 journal articles, and has applied for or received over 250 national and international patents.

We hope you enjoy the interview.

1. What are your research areas?
Our work focuses on growing human cells, tissues, and organs for human transplantation. We are working on developing replacement organs and tissues, as well as healing cell therapies, for more than 40 different areas of the body. Projects range from blood vessels and kidneys to cell therapies for lung disease and hemophilia. We are pursuing multiple strategies, including 3D printing, to move our projects forward to meet our ultimate goal—making patients better. We are also working extensively in using regenerative medicine approaches for body-on-a-chip systems for drug development and microphysological modeling.

2. What are the latest developments in your research field?
To envision the next transformational steps for the field, we can look at current technologies for the 3D printing of cartilage, bone and skin constructs which can serve as benchmarks for progress. As we understand the factors that have contributed to their success, and as we anticipate advances overall in the bioprinting of materials and cells, current limitations can hopefully be overcome in the short term. The continued development of materials for 3D printing, cell sourcing, tissue structure and biomechanical properties, should have a significant impact on moving the field forward.

3. Can you briefly share your career development story? For example, what cases have influenced you the most?
As I initially pursued medicine, I never even considered research. In fact, I had to be talked into doing a research fellowship after I finished my medical training. Yet once I started on that path, I realized I didn’t want to turn back. Research has been an important part of my career and life ever since. The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine research teams are driven by its mission—to improve patients’ lives through regenerative medicine. The goal is to create replacement tissues and organs for patients. It is estimated that every 30 seconds, a patient dies from a disease that could be treated with tissue replacement. There are simply not enough donor tissues and organs to meet the demand. Regenerative medicine offers the hope of engineering replacement organs in the lab to help solve this shortage. Because these organs would be made with a patient’s own cells, there would be no issues with rejection.

4. Do you have any advice you would like to share with young students and early career researchers?
I think it’s important not to put limitations on yourself and your thinking. My advice is always to be receptive to new opportunities and change and to seek advice and input from people who can help when you have a decision to make that can change your life’s trajectory.

5. What do you think of the development of Open Access in publishing?
I am generally in favor of Open Access. Both the scientific community and the general public benefit when publications are widely available. Another consideration is of course financial. Publication fees are often used as an alternative to reader charges, and that can have downsides; for example, bias against less well-funded researchers.

We are thankful for Dr. Atala's time and for his continued support of Bioengineering.

Dr. Anthony Atala’s contact information:
Email: [email protected]

Back to TopTop