BTN LiveBIG: Ohio State alumna puts 'heart' into medical research

BTN LiveBIG: Ohio State alumna puts 'heart' into medical research

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A series that covers the true revolutionaries, Game Changers explores how innovators from Big Ten universities — students, faculty and alums — are inventing or reinventing their chosen fields.

OhioState_ComellaLouis Pasteur. Jonas Salk. Kristin Comella?

It’s perhaps a bit premature to say that this Ohio State graduate should be mentioned in the same breath as those giants of medical science. But the work she’s doing with stem-cell therapies just might end up having an impact on the same scale.

Comella currently serves as chief scientific officer at Bioheart Inc., which is focused on discovering and developing stem-cell therapies for the treatment of degenerative diseases. During the past several years, she’s been instrumental in expanding the company’s concentration from cardiovascular diseases to a range of different ailments.

“We do things like orthopedics, neurological conditions, autoimmune diseases, as well as other diseases that may afflict the body,” she explained. “Stem-cell therapies can be applied basically anywhere you have inflammation or damaged tissue in order to reverse some of the detrimental effects associated with those symptoms.”

For Comella, steering cutting-edge medical research isn’t about winning professional accolades or prestigious awards. It’s about giving people who have severe illnesses and conditions optimism and courage.

“[Some patients] come to us with very little hope after having failed with traditional medicines and are looking for other opportunities,” she said. “The ability to offer them something new that can help to change the course of their disease as opposed to masking symptoms is really rewarding, and doing good for those patients makes the team here at Bioheart feel good as well.”

She’s particularly excited about a current development project called MyoCell. It’s a muscle-derived therapy designed to repopulate regions of scar tissue with new living cells within a patient’s heart to improve cardiac function. If it passes clinical trials and hits the market, it has the potential to change the way we deal with heart conditions.

Comella said her interest in regenerative medicine can be traced back to her time as a graduate student at Ohio State, where she studied chemical engineering. She had the good fortune to work in a laboratory at OSU that was doing extensive research on stem-cell therapies.

It didn’t take long for her to realize how revolutionary this new field was, and her enthusiasm for its potential in medicine has only grown throughout her career.

“Right now we’re just scratching the surface as to what we can do with regenerative medicine,” she said. “I think this is the end of the beginning for stem-cell therapy … and it is going to change the course of medicine as we know it. This is really the penicillin of our generation.”

By Maggie Hays

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