NEWS | December 12, 2012

UC Davis dermatologist receives grant to find new ways of treating chronic skin wounds


The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state’s stem cell agency, today approved a $3 million research grant for Emanual Maverakis, a UC Davis dermatologist who is exploring the development of a synthetic biomaterial that would enable stem cells to be used as effective therapies for chronic skin ulcers.

Emanual Maverakis © UC Regents Emanual Maverakis © UC Regents

The grant was among the 12 New Faculty Physician Scientist Translational Research Awards that the CIRM governing board approved at a meeting in Los Angeles today. The funding is intended to support promising young physician-scientists in the early stages of their careers. Maverakis, an assistant professor of dermatology, says a synthetic biomaterial known as hydrogel potentially offers an effective way to address the costly and debilitating problems associated with chronic wounds.

“Hydrogels are a very promising vehicle for delivering stem cells to a wound site because their three-dimensional structure and high water content mimic the natural environment of a stem cell,” said Maverakis, who holds a joint appointment with the VA Northern California Healthcare System. “However, the surface of some hydrogels cannot interact well with stem cells, so our goal is to develop materials with small adhesion contact sites that would yield a type of customized scaffold that better incorporates cells into the hydrogel and, ultimately, the wound itself.”

The health-care costs for treating skin ulcers are the highest of all skin diseases. According to a 2009 study, chronic wounds affect about 6.5 million people in the United States and may represent more than $25 billion a year in treatment costs. The non-healing wounds frequently occur in people with diabetes, circulatory problems or those who are bedridden from injury or disease. Skin ulcers also represent major risk factors for infections and amputation.

“Human adult stem cell therapies have shown considerable promise for treating chronic wounds, but their clinical application is currently limited,” said Maverakis. “What’s exciting about this particular grant is that it enables me to now collaborate with a range of national experts who can help us discover effective pathways and possible solutions.”

Maverakis said that his research colleagues at UC Davis include Kit Lam, professor and chair of biochemistry and molecular medicine and an expert in combinatorial chemistry; Jan Nolta, director of the university’s Stem Cell Program and its Institute for Regenerative Cures; Yoshikazu Takada, professor of dermatology; and Rivkah Isseroff, professor of dermatology and research leader in wound healing. Maverakis also will be collaborating with April Kloxin and Kristi Kiick, two experts from University of Delaware who specialize in hydrogels.  As part of the study, the team will assess the efficacy of the customized hydrogels — what Maverakis terms “tunable” hydrogels — using human and preclinical models of wound healing.

"Dr. Maverakis combines the skills of caring physician with the creativity of talented scientist," said Nolta. "His expertise in skin diseases provides a great foundation to collaborate with stem cell scientists to find an effective way to harness regenerative medicine to treat chronic skin wounds."

UC Davis is playing a leading role in regenerative medicine, with nearly 150 scientists working on a variety of stem cell-related research projects at campus locations in both Davis and Sacramento. The UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, a facility supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), opened in 2010 on the Sacramento campus. This $62 million facility is the university's hub for stem cell science. It includes Northern California's largest academic Good Manufacturing Practice laboratory, with state-of-the-art equipment and manufacturing rooms for cellular and gene therapies. UC Davis also has a Translational Human Embryonic Stem Cell Shared Research Facility in Davis and a collaborative partnership with the Institute for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine at Shriners Hospital for Children Northern California. All of the programs and facilities complement the university's Clinical and Translational Science Center, and focus on turning stem cells into cures. For more information, visit