McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Research and Its People Receive Awards for Excellence
The Pittsburgh Carnegie Science Center established the Awards for Excellence program in 1997 to recognize and promote outstanding science and technology achievements in Western Pennsylvania. Celebrating its 16th year, the Carnegie Science Awards have honored the accomplishments of more than 300 individuals and organizations that have improved lives through their commitment and contributions in science and technology. Award winners were announced on February 2, 2012. On May 11, 2012, at the Carnegie Music Hall the following award recipients from the McGowan Institute will be honored for their tremendous work and its impact on the vitality in the region:
- Advanced Materials Award: Eric Beckman, PhD, the George M. Bevier professor of Engineering in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
- Start-Up Entrepreneur Award: Nick Kuhn, president and chief business officer, ALung Technologies, Inc.
- Life Sciences Award: Joel Schuman, MD, the Eye and Ear Foundation professor and chairman of Ophthalmology, director of the UPMC Eye Center, and interim director, the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration
- University/Post-Secondary Student Award, Honorable Mention: Sam Rothstein, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh
The Advanced Materials Award recognizes accomplishments in materials science that create new materials or properties leading to significant business, economic, or societal benefits for the region. Dr. Eric Beckman is the inventor of a new surgical adhesive, TissuGlu®. In addition to being the “brains” behind the invention of the technology, he has also led the scientific aspects of the translation of the invention to a clinical product. Dr. Beckman invented TissuGlu® at the University of Pittsburgh, and the IP was licensed to Cohera Medical in Pittsburgh, which has pursued the commercialization of the technology. TissuGlu® Surgical Adhesive is the first clinically available product based upon the adhesive technology platform invented by Dr. Beckman. The adhesive system is a new, high-strength surgical adhesive that is biocompatible for internal use and designed to help reduce wound drainage while allowing tissues to heal naturally following plastic surgery procedures. The adhesive begins as a low molecular weight, hyper-branched pre-polymer. Upon application, the ends of the molecules begin adhering to tissue surfaces. The adhesive cures in the presence of moisture, with water reacting with the ends of unbounded molecules to bind them together, forming large polymeric chains. The cured adhesive forms a network of large polymeric chains that allows the adhesive to remain soft and flexible while also creating a strong tissue bond. As tissues continue to heal, hydrolysis eventually degrades the adhesive into harmless, absorbable subcomponents. By forming a strong bond between tissue planes and reducing dead space in the surgical wound, TissuGlu® Surgical Adhesive helps to decrease the amount of post-surgical fluid accumulation and may reduce the length of time that drains are required following surgery. In September 2011, Cohera received the CE Mark Approval for TissuGlu® Surgical Adhesive. CE Mark Approval allows TissuGlu® to be sold in the European Union. In January 2012, Cohera announced that it had received Investigational Device Exemption approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to begin a prospective, multicenter, randomized clinical trial for TissuGlu® in the United States.
The Start-Up Entrepreneur Award recognizes leadership in developing a promising innovation in an early-stage company. Mr. Nick Kuhn is the president and chief business officer, ALung Technologies, Inc. ALung, in Pittsburgh, is developing the HemoLung™, which is an extracorporeal gas exchange device that circulates blood via a small catheter out of the body through a cartridge in a therapy similar to kidney dialysis. The technology was developed by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member William Federspiel, PhD, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Chemical Engineering, Surgery and Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, and director, Medical Devices Laboratory: Biotransport, Pulmonary and Cardiovascular, McGowan Institute, and the late Brack Hattler. By directly delivering oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide from the blood, the HemoLung™ provides a superior clinical and cost-effective solution when compared to a conventional ventilator (respirator) used in an ICU. The HemoLung™ is designed to support patients with acute breathing problems, providing their lungs a bridge to recovery much more efficiently and safely than is currently done. There are currently 450,000 patients in the U.S. that are ventilated each year for temporary, acute respiratory failure, resulting in a potential annual market of $2.7 billion. ALung also expects that the HemoLung™ will be a supplement to accelerate healing for patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS; injured lungs). On market introduction, the HemoLung™ is expected to replace 40-50% of ventilator use, and as physicians get comfortable with it, eventually as much as 60-80% of ventilator use in the ICU. The substantial and sustained progress through the clinical trial phase and approaching the point that the CE Mark can be obtained, the HemoLung™ is a tribute to the entrepreneurial leadership of Mr. Kuhn. Under his leadership, ALung has grown from a several person enterprise to a viable commercial enterprise. As ALung begins commercializing its system in 2012 in Europe and by 2013 in the U.S., ALung has added positions in operations, manufacturing, clinical affairs, and finance, bringing its employee count to 25. The company has expanded its infrastructure and production capability and has moved into its own building. The “burn rate” on cash is significant for an enterprise such as ALung, especially during ramp-up to production. In October 2010, ALung announced that the company had closed a $14 million Series A financing round. The investment will support ongoing clinical trials of the HemoLung™ Respiratory Assist System and its subsequent commercialization. The ability of the company to secure this financing in the current economic climate reinforces the widely recognized capabilities of Mr. Kuhn’s leadership and the potential of the HemoLung™ technology to help patients heal more quickly while reducing the overall cost of healthcare.
The Life Sciences Award recognizes and honors scientific advances in new and innovative biomedical and life sciences endeavors. The research of Dr. Joel Schuman focuses on the early detection of disease and its progression and the invention of novel diagnostics for eye disease, most specifically for glaucoma. Determined to find a method of diagnosing glaucoma before symptoms become present, Dr. Schuman pioneered the development of optical coherence tomography (OCT), which to date is the most powerful tool available for early detection of the disease. Dr. Schuman is responsible for regularly upgrading this technology, now known as Spectral Domain OCT, which quickly and noninvasively produces a 3-D map of the eye and compares it to images of what healthy eye tissue should look like. OCT is now used worldwide for ocular diagnostics. OCT provides tissue morphology imagery at much higher resolution (better than 10 µm) than other imaging modalities, such as MRI or ultrasound. No special preparation of eye tissue is required, and images can be obtained ‘non-contact’ or through a transparent window or membrane – providing diagnostic capabilities never available before Dr. Schuman’s invention. In addition, Dr. Schuman and his colleagues were the first to identify a molecular marker for human glaucoma, as published in Nature Medicine. This discovery has provided the pathway to significant advances in the treatment and diagnosis of glaucoma, a disease that affects 17 million people, and is the number one cause of preventable blindness. Glaucoma is virtually symptom-free in its early stages. This identification of the molecular marker for glaucoma, has paved the way for other significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. OCT has changed the clinical practice of ophthalmology, allowing non-invasive in vivo objective, quantitative assessment of ocular pathologies. Dr. Schuman’s work has resulted in the publication of 27 OCT-related peer-reviewed scientific papers in high level journals, including Science and Nature Medicine. The discovery of the molecular marker for human glaucoma was a major milestone. As noted above, early detection of glaucoma has been a problem. Various population-based epidemiological studies have reported that more than 50% of glaucoma cases remain undiagnosed, even in developed countries. High prevalence of undiagnosed glaucoma is consistent with the lack of cost-effective screening methods for glaucoma. Molecular markers are paving the way to better and lower cost screening tools.
The University/Post-Secondary Student Award recognizes scientific advances through research, effectiveness in increasing the public awareness of the role of science or engineering to society, and inspiring youth in the promotion of career opportunities. Mr. Sam Rothstein is a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He is responsible for the development of the first mathematical model that can be used to predict controlled release of practically any drug from degradable polymer matrices. Mr. Rothstein’s mathematical models eliminate months of experiments from the design of long-acting, controlled-release medications. For a single medication, this translates to a savings of nearly $1 million in R&D costs and $400 million in patent-protected sales revenue. The efficiency of Mr. Rothstein’s models has already helped researchers at the University of Pittsburgh develop a once-a-month glaucoma treatment (to replace one given 3 times daily) and a first-in-class medication for periodontal disease. Widespread adoption of these methods could bring to market hundreds of other medications that improve patient safety and adherence, barriers responsible for 10% of hospitalizations and over $100 billion in annual medical expenses. Mr. Rothstein’s most recent publication entitled “A Tool Box for Rational Design of Degradable Controlled Release Formulations” was chosen as a feature review article and made the cover of the Journal of Materials Chemistry in early 2011. His extraordinary effort and persistence in his graduate work has resulted in an impressive number of awards for a graduate student including an NIH T32 Fellowship, the Fisher-Scientific Biomedical Engineering Research Award, the Society for Biomaterials’ STAR Award, and the Sunoco Chemicals Award (just to name a few). Furthermore, Mr. Rothstein has won even more awards as a result of translating his technology into a new, Pittsburgh-based startup company (ChroKnow Inc.) including the Idea Foundry’s Commercialization Award, a University of Pittsburgh Big Idea Award, and two separate first place prizes in two difference elevator pitch competitions. It is important to note that in the elevator pitch competitions, Sam mostly competed against other “faculty” in the Pittsburgh area (many of which are tremendous scientists). Mr. Rothstein is a rare example of a graduate student that has gone beyond excellence in academics to excellence in entrepreneurship.