Allegorically speaking, if Mayo Clinic were a garden and regenerative technologies were fruits and vegetables, William Faubion Jr., M.D., sees himself as a gardener tending to the teams responsible for these new healing therapies. Dr. Faubion, who is the newly named associate medical director for Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine, wants to advance discoveries germinating at Mayo Clinic, commercialize them and bring them to the practice.
"If there are acres and acres of innovators and discovery scientists, my job as a gardener is to identify what discovery teams are closest to clinical application with a regenerative product that's meeting a serious and complex need. Once we identify those teams, I will try to help them address the gaps barring entry to the manufacturing pipeline," says Dr. Faubion.
Regenerative medicine is an emerging field that is shifting the focus from fighting disease to rebuilding health by repairing, replacing or restoring diseased cells, tissues or organs. The Center for Regenerative Medicine is leading a biomanufacturing strategy to advance next-generation therapeutics derived from biological systems, such as cells, genes or genetically engineered cells rather than chemical compounds, to provide a new era of medicines that address unmet patient needs.
Team Science Award
Dr. Faubion's passion for human medicine, easing suffering and restoring health sparked his interest in regenerative medicine. A gastroenterologist by training, Dr. Faubion treats patients with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause a painful condition known as perianal fistula. Fistulas are abnormal connections between the intestine and the skin, in this case the rectum and the perianal region. These fistulas cause infected cavities that generally do not respond to standard medical and surgical therapies.
Dr. Faubion is part of a collaboration with colleagues in Surgery and Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic that developed a regenerative procedure to close the fistula using a plug created from the patient's own stem cells and a dissolvable mesh. The plug is designed to decrease inflammation around the fistula and recruit cells to heal the skin.
Dr. Faubion, Eric Dozois, M. D., and Allan Dietz, Ph.D., won a Team Science Award in 2017 for discovering a fistual plug.
Dr. Faubion, together with Eric Dozois, M.D., a Mayo Clinic colorectal surgeon, and Allan Dietz, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic transfusion medicine scientist, won a Mayo Clinic Team Science award for the fistula plug discovery, which is being tested in clinical trials.
"I have an interest in how to engineer a cell to perform functions. That is how I initially got involved with regenerative medicine," says Dr. Faubion. "I also have a research interest in understanding the immunology of inflammatory bowel disease. Immune cells are inherently regenerative. They are unique in that they maintain a stemlike state and can divide as they differentiate into different types of lineages."
Background in earth sciences
A native of Texas, Dr. Faubion ventured to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for his undergraduate degree. Initially an English major, the son of a geologist was soon lured away by the intrigue of earth sciences and love of the outdoors. He graduated with a degree in geochemistry.
Dr. Faubion completed his medical degree at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and then came to Mayo Clinic for a fellowship in gastroenterology.
"I came to Mayo Clinic because it is absolutely the best place to learn about and practice gastroenterology," says Dr. Faubion.
At Mayo Clinic, he is a physician in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine, with joint appointments in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, and the Department of Immunology.
Bright future for regenerative medicine
Regenerative medicine is a relatively new and evolving field, and Dr. Faubion believes it holds great promise for patients. He points to chimeric antigen receptor-T cell therapy (CAR-T cell therapy) as an example of a regenerative therapy that taps the body's biological system to spur healing. In CAR-T cell therapy, cells are taken from a patient and engineered to kill cancer. The cells that are given back to the patient become like a living drug that continually fights disease.
"We have documented through CAR-T, and the fistula plug, that a transferal of a biological system, such as a cell or combination of cells, into a patient can trigger a healing response that is not always replicated by a standard medication or synthetic therapy. That's the power of regenerative medicine," he says. "Mayo Clinic has the clarity of vision to lead in this space. I'm grateful to be a part of it."