2014 Robert M. Nerem International Travel Award Winner Announced

Primary tabs

Ashley Allen will travel to Jerusalem to learn new delivery technique of mesenchymal stem cells.

Ashley Allen plans to take something special back with her to the Georgia Institute of Technology from her trip to Israel next fall, and it isn’t souvenirs.

Allen, winner of the 2014 Robert M. Nerem International Travel Award, will spend two weeks at Hebrew University in Jerusalem learning a new technique for delivering mesenchymal stem cells for the repair of large bone defects, and she intends to bring what she learns to the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

“This procedure could have a lot of potential advantages,” says Allen, who is in her fifth year of the bioengineering Ph.D. program, and is a graduate research assistant in Robert E. Guldberg’s Musculoskeletal Research Laboratory.

“Our lab focuses on a range of orthopaedic tissues, but not so much on cell delivery, mostly acellular strategies,” Allen says. “The lab in Israel that I’ll be working in is all about cell delivery for bone tissue engineering applications.”

Friends and colleagues of Bob Nerem, founding director of the Petit Institute, thought it would be a good idea to honor his contributions to bioengineering and his commitment to the Petit Institute. So they established an annual award of up to $3,000 to support post-docs and graduate students traveling outside the U.S. for research.

"A group of friends and colleagues, unbeknownst to me, talked to me about a travel award, which I though was a great idea, but I didn't want it to just send someone off to some conference," Nerem says. "It ended up being about research abroad, which I think is excellent, as our research is part of a global community, and I feel uniquely honored."

Allen is the 10th recipient of the award. The program, which began in 2005, has received generous support from donors like Coe Bloomberg (ME, Class of 1966) and G.B. Espy (ME, Class of 1957) through the years, helping to increase the visibility of the Petit Institute around the world, sending trainees from Georgia Tech to some of the world’s top research universities and institutions, including the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan; the National University of Singapore;  University of Twente, The Netherlands; Queensland University of Technology, Australia; Consorzio Interuniversitario Lombardo per L’Elaborazione Automatica, Milan, Italy;  Imperial College, London; and Kings College, London.

Allen will spend two weeks in the lab of Zulma Gazit, learning the technique developed there of incorporating perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) into an alginate-based mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) delivery system. She has collaborated with Gazit twice before, in 2010 and 2011, for a week each time.

“I have come to know her as a hard-working and thoughtful researcher,” Gazit says. “Her attention to detail and ability to communicate complemented her work ethic, leading to a productive effort on which we have recently published.

“I think this is a beneficial new skill for her to have and I look forward to testing the technology within the segmental long bone defect model utilized at Georgia Tech.”

Basically, Allen aims to test whether perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) delivery will improve MSC survival.

“What we’re seeking is better bone regeneration,” Allen says.

Right now, she says, “in our system, we see widespread cell death and minimal vascularization by three days in vivo, indicating limited nutrient availability.”

She believes there is a benefit in PFTBA utilization because it will help increase local oxygen levels, which theoretically will enhance survival of the MSCs, which means they have a better chance of forming better bone.

“So my thesis is focused on taking different angles to get the cells to stick around and survive longer,” says Allen, who isn’t the first person to travel to the Holy Land for a better sense of perspective.


  • Workflow Status:
  • Created By:
    Colly Mitchell
  • Created:
  • Modified By:
    Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:


    No keywords were submitted.

Target Audience

    No target audience selected.