D. Kacy Cullen


Rebuilding the Nervous System Using Tissue Engineered “Living Scaffolds”


Dr. Cullen is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery & Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania (http://www.med.upenn.edu/cullenlab/) and serves as the Director of the Center for Neurotrauma, Neurodegeneration, and Restoration at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Dr. Cullen is a leading innovator in neural tissue engineering and nervous system repair strategies, and he was recently selected as one of “3 People to Watch in Neuroscience” by STAT News. He has founded 2 early-stage companies developing advanced regenerative therapies, one being Axonova, focused on living regenerative scaffolds for nerve and spinal cord repair, and INNERVACE, focused on personalized tissue engineering treatments to replace brain tissue lost due to neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s. He has over 70 scientific publications, and has also written in popular science journals such as Scientific American. Dr. Cullen’s lab receives extramural support from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.


Neurotrauma or neurodegenerative disease commonly result in the disconnection of axon pathways – the long-distance fibers connecting specialized regions of the central nervous system (CNS) or relaying peripheral signals. Unfortunately, functional axonal regeneration rarely occurs due to extreme distances to targets, absence of directed guidance, and, in the CNS, the presence of inhibitory factors – often resulting in permanent cognitive and/or sensorimotor deficits. To address this need, the Cullen Lab is pioneering the development of so-called “living scaffolds”, which are anatomically-inspired tissue engineered constructs consisting of neural cells in a defined, anisotropic architecture. These living scaffolds recapitulate developmental mechanisms by providing a living labeled pathway for targeted axonal regeneration or neuronal migration, and in some cases may physically “wire in” to replace complex brain circuitry. Although there are formidable challenges in preclinical and clinical advancement, these tissue engineered living scaffolds represent a promising strategy to restore nervous system structure and function following afflictions such as traumatic brain injury or Parkinson’s disease.