Six Degrees of Sam Franklin

by Charlene Betourney

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Sam Franklin, you'll instantly be struck by three things. He's very tall; he has the most wholesome high-cheeked smile you'll have ever seen; and, lastly, he's a true gentleman. That much becomes clear immediately.

As we spoke about everything from his love of dogs to the culture of the RBC … without a doubt, Sam combines his passion for animals with his mission for meaningful research within the field of veterinary medicine advancing both animal and human health.

We began by talking about the culture of the Regenerative Bioscience Center (RBC), in which Sam is the newest member. He started by describing the RBC, "A collaboration geared toward identifying regenerative solutions for numerous medical conditions that affect both animals and people."

What inspired you to join the RBC?

"The level and breadth of expertise that other individuals within the RBC have that I don’t. Essentially it comes back to collaboration. Achieving meaningful goals in the field of regenerative medicine is challenging and no individual is going to do so by themselves. Any improvements within the field are going to be done by groups of individuals working together. The RBC offers an opportunity to interact and collaborate, capitalizing on the strengths of others in order to realize valuable accomplishments."

Established in 2004, the goal of the RBC is to consolidate the University of Georgia’s expertise, resources, and accomplishments in the field of stem cell research to build one of the leading programs in the nation in regenerative bioscience. Professor and Director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center is Dr. Steven Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar endowed chair and Chief Scientific Officer for ArunA Biomedical Inc.

How did you first hear of the RBC?

"I knew of the RBC even before I arrived on campus, but I didn’t really appreciate all that it has to offer until I began meeting people in the RBC. That started when I was talking to Marc Kent in in the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital, a veterinary neurologist who is a member of the RBC. After discussing research for a while he brought me to meet Lohitash Karumbaiah. From there I had an opportunity to meet Frank West, Kylee Jo Duberstein, and others, such as Shannon Holmes, with whom I’m working on a number of projects. You meet one person, then another, and keep going from there.."

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a parlor game based on the "six degrees of separation" concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. Sam’s view of the RBC expertise carries that same connectivity. Well, almost.

Who stands out in the RBC?

"I don’t know that I could say there is one particular “stand-out” person. Each person that I have met has really impressed me with what they’ve done in their respective area and all have some expertise that is pertinent to my interests.

To illustrate, I’m interested in cartilage tissue regeneration and bone healing and my work has focused on using biodegradable scaffold materials and stem cells for such purpose. I can talk with Lohitash Karumbaiah about building complex biodegradable scaffolds out of carbohydrates. I can talk to Frank West and discuss his work inducing pluripotentiality in stem cells (iPS), which could readily apply to cartilage regeneration. And, obviously Steve Stice’s work with stem cells could be applied to cartilage or bone regeneration, an area in which they have had great success. So I wouldn’t say there is anyone in particular in the RBC that is most impressive, rather it’s more impressive that each individual has really great experience and expertise."

Dr. Franklin’s academic achievements have kept him busy for a decade; PhD in Veterinary Pathobiology, University of Missouri. Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation. Diplomate the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University. Master of Science, University of Maryland. On paper with six degrees, Sam could have chosen many paths. However, he is most content at the University of Georgia.

As a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, holding six degrees you could have chosen many paths – Why research?

"I would say that the academic environment is particularly appealing to me because it provides an opportunity to do many different things that I love. I take care of clinical patients and perform surgery and I very much enjoy that. My clinical practice responsibilities also gives me an opportunity to teach and I love interacting with students and trying to share my enthusiasm for orthopedic surgery. And last, but not least, my current situation gives me an opportunity to do meaningful research that I hope will ultimately prove to be a benefit to both my clinical patients as well as to people.

So in some ways I’ve always thought, that the academic environment is the perfect combination for a veterinary surgeon who wants instant gratification on one end – while also providing the opportunity to have a greater impact beyond our individual patients.

For instance, it can take a decade, or 2, or 3, to realize some advancement that really has wide spread medical utility. You can do surgery on a given patient and have achieved a notable difference in a couple of hours. So when I need to accomplish something where I can see concrete benefits right away, I look to my clinical patients. Whereas, if I want to think about what my greater impact is going to be I think about my research. I hope to make my greatest contribution be via research, helping advance treatments that benefit dogs, cats, other species, and also people."

Sam jokes, "Seems like we (clinician scientists) are always doing 5 things at once, but that’s part of the fun of it." When he does find spare time, he enjoys running with his two dogs, Dugan, a hound mix and Kaylin a Labrador Retriever.

Sam shared a loving story on how he acquired what he calls his, "troubled hound" Dugan.

"The hound is trouble, constantly creating work. I met my wife, Ashley who already had Kaylin. She had lived previously with a household of vet students who also had numerous other dogs, and so when we began living together and Kaylin was alone in the backyard, she had some separation anxiety (as a writer I’m going to tie everything in…and interject, that perhaps she missed Kevin Bacon?).

Kaylin would whine during the day, which was unbeknownst to us because we were at vet school. We came home and there was a notice from the humane society, apparently one of our neighbors complained about her whining. So we figured we had to get a partner to keep her company.

At that point I was doing infectious disease research on bobcats and mountain lions. So I contacted the houndsman who worked with us on those projects and asked him if he had any older individuals that he needed to find a home for. He said, ‘Well I had a litter unexpectedly,’ so logically I was the "sucker" who ended up with a puppy.

Before I took him he seemed perfectly content and happy. A couple of weeks later I drove back up and plopped him in the car, still happy and content. Started driving down the driveway and for a dog who weighed less than 10lbs, I had never heard a louder noise in my entire life. I thought, do I turnaround now and go back? It was just really my unwillingness to embarrass myself in taking him back that I kept on going. So for that reason, we and our neighbors ended up with a very loud, boisterous hound who we love very much. I’m sure in retrospect the neighbors wished they never reported the first dog at all."

Dr. Franklin has been an active member of the RBC since 2013 with expertise in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, bone healing, minimally invasive fracture repair and canine sports medicine treatments; including platelet rich plasma and hyaluronic acid treatment.

What is your area of expertise?

"My focus is on evaluating and developing treatments that can help facilitate cartilage regeneration or treatment of osteoarthritis. One treatment I have been looking at for such purpose is platelet-rich plasma, a therapy that is very popular right now. We take the patient’s own blood and try and concentrate the platelets from the blood into a smaller more concentrated portion then deliver those to a site of injury.

Platelets are a source of numerous anabolic growth factors — things like transforming growth factor-beta and vascular endothelial growth factor, both of which may stimulate more effective healing."

Widely used in both human and veterinary medicine, PRP has been used for everything from trying to enhance bone healing, ligament and tendon healing, to intra-articular treatment of osteoarthritis and cartilage injury. The most visible media/PR application of it was an injection of the medial collateral ligament of Hines Wards, former University of Georgia and Steelers football player. The treatment was prior to his award for most valuable player in Super Bowl XL.

Regenerative medicine is moving so quickly. In your particular field – what do you perceive as the most promising?

"I’m looking at platelet-rich plasma and stem cell therapy with the interest of determining where and how they are applicable for treating cartilage injury or osteoarthritis in dogs. My interest is in clinical application in dogs and also to try answering more basic questions in terms of what are the conditions for which stem cells or PRP may be useful for humans too. These are treatments for which there is some positive evidence, but there is also some evidence that fails to demonstrate benefit. So it’s not completely understood yet in what situation stem cells or PRP should be used or are beneficial."

You can read two of Dr. Sam Franklin’s current publications at PubMed:

Theory and development of a unicompartmental resurfacing system for treatment of medial compartment disease of the canine elbow.

Franklin SP, Schulz KS, Karnes J, Cook JL.
Vet Surg. 2014 Oct;43(7):765-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-950X.2014.12154.x. Epub 2014 Jan 30.

Prospective trial of autologous conditioned plasma versus hyaluronan plus corticosteroid for elbow osteoarthritis in dogs.

Franklin SP, Cook JL.
Can Vet J. 2013 Sep;54(9):881-4.