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Joseph P. Vacanti, M.D.,BS'70

May 2005Joseph P. Vacanti, M.D., BS'70

Charles A. Vacanti, M.D., BS'72

Martin P. Vacanti, BS’74, MD'82

Francis X. Vacanti, M.D., BS'74

May 14, 2005

The Vacanti brothers...front, Joseph (left), and Charles; back, Francis (left) and Martin.

The science of tissue engineering has developed exponentially in the past 16 years, largely due to the work of four physician-brothers who are Creighton alumni. They are Doctors Joseph, Charles, Martin and Francis Vacanti, also known by their nicknames Jay, Chuck, Marty and Frank.

Jay the eldest, a surgeon-scientist in the field of pediatric surgery and transplantation surgery, began work in tissue engineering in 1985. Because of the shortage of transplant organs and his desire to save the lives of his young patients, Jay urgently wanted to find a way to grow organs. A eureka moment
blazed the way when Jay, on a family seaside vacation, realized that the branching structure of seaweed was the structure he needed to duplicate to support cell growth. Today this configuration is used successfully worldwide.

Jay encouraged his physician brothers to join him in discovering how organs could be developed from a patient’s own tissue. Over the years, the brothers’ dynamic interaction and collaboration has advanced the field in incredible ways.

Chuck’s contributions have helped to grow a human ear, one of the most difficult organs for plastic surgeons to repair; as well as a breastplate of bone and cartilage to protect a young boy’s heart; and a thumb for a machinist who had severed his in an accident. Marty was the first to identify and multiply the adult cells needed to grow new tissue and organs. Frank is researching why some injured tissue forms scars while other tissue regenerates perfectly.

The brothers come from a line of independent thinkers. Their parents encouraged nonconformist approaches to understanding how things work. The brothers also credit their Jesuit training as motivation to think expansively in searching for truth.

For their extensive contributions and research to better serve patients, Creighton University is proud to confer upon the “first family” of tissue engineering -- Doctors Joseph, Martin, Charles and Francis Vacanti -- the University’s Alumni Achievement Citation this fourteenth day of May, two-thousand and five.