Where Are They Now?
Dr. Guillermo Ameer’s Discoveries To Make The Human Body Just Like New
A quirk of fate steered Dr. Guillermo Ameer from electrical to chemical and biomedical engineering, bringing him acclaim and bringing the world a realm of medicine previously unknown. A Collin County Community College (Collin) graduate, Dr. Ameer is one of 10 Illinois recipients to receive stem cell funding this year, and his research may soon alter the way surgeons practice medicine.
Dr. Guillermo Ameer
Dr. Ameer has created a degradable, implantable elastic that can be used to repair small blood vessels or coronary arteries, cartilage, ligaments or even bone tissue. This material is comprised of citric acid and diols, or double alcohols, substances our bodies use and therefore will not find foreign. Imagine you are a child who needs a new heart valve. This discovery could fix your problem without taking tissue from other parts of your body and without the use of any anti-rejection drugs or the need for continual surgery as you grow.
“Citric acid is in Coke and juices and is used as an additive and stabilizer. A diol reacts with it. We heat it up and create a solid that can be dissolved in ethanol and cast in molds. We add salt to the mold and then leach the salt out of it to create a framework with pores called a scaffold. The scaffold eventually degrades once implanted in the body. We add a person’s or donor’s cells to seed the scaffold to regenerate tissue or add signals to promote cells to migrate to the material,” Dr. Ameer said.
Dr. Ameer is the founder and director of a new venture in progress—the Center for Vascular Bioengineering, which is a collaborative effort between surgeons, engineers and scientists to improve vascular disease with bioengineering. An assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, he transferred from Collin to the University of Texas at Austin and then completed his doctorate in chemical and biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A strong supporter of education, Dr. Ameer feels that he got a great start at Collin.
“Collin serves the community. It is an excellent school. I felt prepared to go on to the university. All of my professors were good. Attending Collin worked for me. The price I paid for my education could have been 30 times as expensive,” Dr. Ameer said.
Dr. Ameer views laboratory work as a maze. “In research you are constantly learning. One day you might hit the right entrance, and then you go to the next room and hit walls. It is like a labyrinth, but it is exciting and rewarding. We can make bone screws, with the same composition as bone, to secure ligaments. Surgeons traditionally use plastic or metal screws. Ceramic screws could be ideal, but the material is too brittle. With citric acid-based elastomers, we can now use ceramics and make bone screws, that when put in place, are expected to become indistinguishable from surrounding bone over time. What is left behind is as good as new,” Dr. Ameer said.
Inventing a Protein Filter
Dr. Ameer has also created a blood filter protein using recombinant DNA technology that can filter specific proteins when used prior to or after dialysis. This device filters out the “bad” proteins while leaving the “good” proteins in blood. Individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have a plaque of protein in their brains which prevents neurons from functioning properly. The new protein filtering process could potentially slow down the disease by filtering out the unwanted protein. Patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, arthritis and diabetes may also benefit from this process. His discovery is designed to prevent plaque from forming in the first place.
Dr. Ameer says there is 95 percent failure in research. But the five percent success rate is worth it. Navigating through life can be much the same experience, but you learn as you go and ultimately enjoy the fruits of your labors.
“You have to have confidence and be positive about where you are heading. You have to truly believe in yourself. As someone once said, ‘the way to be successful is by overcoming many challenges; you deal with them one at a time,’” Dr. Ameer said.