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. The Carnegie Science Awards have honored the accomplishments of more than 350 committed individuals and organizations that have improved lives through their contributions in science and technology. Award winners were announced on January 31, 2013. On May 3, 2013, at the Carnegie Music Hall the following award recipients will be honored for their tremendous work and its impact on the vitality in the region:
- Life Sciences Award: Dr. David Vorp [http://mirm.pitt.edu/our-people/faculty-staff-bios/david-vorp-phd/]
- Emerging Female Scientist Award: Dr. Tracy Cui [http://mirm.pitt.edu/our-people/faculty-staff-bios/xinyan-tracy-cui-phd/]
· Educator Awards / University/Post-secondary Educator: Dr. Steven Little [http://mirm.pitt.edu/our-people/faculty-staff-bios/steven-r-little-phd/]
- Start-Up Entrepreneur Award: Cohera Medical, Inc.
- University / Post-Secondary Student Award: Ms. Elaine Houston
Life Sciences Award
The Life Sciences Award recognizes and honors scientific advances in new and innovative biomedical and life sciences endeavors.
Dr. David Vorp’s research has focused on the biomechanics, pathobiology, and regeneration of tubular tissues, such as blood vessels, urethra, esophagus, and intestine. He and his team have been credited with developing novel tools, techniques, and concepts related to the biomechanics-based, patient-specific diagnostic assessment of rupture potential for aortic aneurysms, which are now being clinically tested. Dr. Vorp’s laboratory has also developed tissue engineering strategies for tubular organs, which has included the study of means to derive vascular cell types from adult stem cells. Of note, his team has built an engineered blood vessel from human stem cells and a biodegradable scaffold, and used it to successfully replace the native aorta in a rat for up to a year. Dr. Vorp and his team are continuing this work, testing the tissue engineered blood vessel as a vascular graft in small and large animals, and translating the technology toward clinical application. Dr. Vorp and his associates have also developed a promising technology that places a biodegradable coating on the outer surface of vein grafts, which functions dually as mechanical support and a drug delivery vehicle, and this may lead to a mean to reduce failure of vein grafts used in arterial bypass procedures, including coronary bypass. This technology forms the basis of a start-up company, Neograft Technologies, Inc., co-founded by Dr. Vorp, two of his former students, and a faculty colleague, which is presently in operation within the City of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Vorp’s work has already had an impact on medical science and practice, and will for years to come. His work on aortic aneurysms has changed the way that clinicians view their rupture potential and may lead to important new paradigm shifts in the management of patients with this disease. Dr. Vorp’s laboratory developed a novel, completely-autologous, human tissue engineered vascular graft, which has great potential to impact cardiovascular surgery The technology developed in his laboratory that led to the product Angioshield™ by his start-up company Neograft Technologies is expected to undergo a human trial in the near future.
Very few researchers can state that their work changed clinical practice, but Dr. Vorp’s work on aortic aneurysms has done just that. Where once it was only the diameter of the aneurysm that dictated whether to operate, thanks to Dr. Vorp’s pioneering work, clinicians now can investigate the likelihood that an aneurysm will rupture; which is the ultimate clinical information required. This work championed by Dr. Vorp was accomplished in collaboration with a number of vascular surgeon colleagues over the years, which points out Dr. Vorp’s commitment to working with the clinical community for the betterment of patient care.
Many of Dr. Vorp’s trainees have received prestigious fellowships both during and after their training in his laboratory. Six of his former trainees have become successful faculty members in other programs, while others are valued members of industry.
Emerging Female Scientist Award
Presented by CONSOL Energy Inc.
The Emerging Female Scientist Award recognizes a female leader whose cutting-edge work inspires change in math, science, or technology.
Dr. Tracy Cui’s research achievements span many areas including neural engineering and biosensors. She pioneered the development of bioactive conductive polymer coatings for improving the recording and stimulation performance of implantable neural electrode arrays (microchips used to communicate with neurons in the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves). A highly stable and biocompatible carbon nanotube and conducting polymer composite coating developed by Dr. Cui’s lab showed superior stimulation capacity and stability for neural stimulation beyond the current state of art. Furthermore, drug molecules can be loaded in the coating and be released upon electrical stimulation. This electrically controlled release system allows precise delivery of drug molecules to modulate neural circuits or to promote the tissue health around the neural implant. Her lab and collaborators have also demonstrated that by anchoring biomolecules derived from the brain tissue on the artificial chips, they can attract neurons to grow onto the chip implanted in the brain and the unfavorable host tissue response is minimized. These technologies show great promise in promoting the long-term stability and functionality of neural implants, which have the potential to benefit patients with severe neurological deficits. In the biosensor area, Dr. Cui’s research group is among the first to utilize aptamers, small synthetic CAN, RNA, or peptides having high affinity to biomolecule targets, as bio-recognition elements, which offer many advantages over the conventional antibodies. The Cui Lab has successfully developed several aptasensors and reported novel techniques to electrically enhance sensing specificity or to regenerate the sensors for multiple uses.
Dr. Cui pioneered the conducting polymer neural electrode coatings that offer tremendous advantages over the traditional metal electronics, including high charge capacity, low electrical impedance, and the ability to incorporate bioactive molecules to promote implant biocompatibility in vivo. This work launched a new application field for conducting polymers and a new direction for neural interface design to benefit neurologically compromised patients. Dr. Cui’s research leadership in neural interfaces, tissue engineering, and biosensing has attracted more than $4 million of highly prestigious peer-reviewed funding from NIH, NSF, DOD, and The Wallace Coulter Foundation.
Dr. Cui’s pioneering work in conducting polymer-based neural electrode coatings is both nationally and internationally recognized. Many research laboratories worldwide have adapted this technology or started research in this direction. Her original papers published on this topic have been cited over 800 times (according to Google scholar), clearly indicating the highly significant impact of her seminal contribution to the field. Dr. Cui’s recent publication entitled “Rapid modulation of local neural activity by controlled drug release from polymer-coated recording microelectrodes” is one of the 2011 highlighted articles in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
Dr. Cui’s lab is conducting highly interdisciplinary research focused on both understanding the dynamic changes of neural implant-tissue interface as well as developing biomimetic approaches to improve the implant biocompatibility and functionality to benefit neurologically compromised patients. Dr. Cui has achieved significant academic success, including major publications, very significant peer-reviewed funding, and promotion with tenure, while at the same time beginning a family that now includes two children. Dr. Cui obviously manages the demands of work and family exceptionally well, and as such serves as a role model for talented young women who would consider a STEM career.
Educator Awards recognize innovation in science and technology education at each of the following four levels: Elementary Educator, Middle Level Educator, High School Educator, and University/Post-secondary Educator. Educators are recognized for innovation in inspiring students to understand, appreciate, and apply science, and for the extent that these innovations are disseminated. Candidates must have at least 3 years teaching experience.
Dr. Steven Little is the recipient of the University/Post-secondary Educator Award. His students are fervent and outspoken about him as a teacher, and his teaching evaluation scores are consistently better than those of the best instructors in the Swanson School of Engineering. Quoting from some of the anonymous comments from the evaluations of his courses, students wrote: “cares about students,” “makes people want to learn,” “the best professor I’ve ever had,” and “above and beyond what I expect from a professor.”
On a national level, Dr. Little was selected by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation to be a Plenary Speaker at this year’s Beckman Scholars Symposium at the National Academy’s Facility in Irvine, California. Steve presented to several hundred “Beckman Scholars” (the nation’s brightest undergraduates in science and engineering).
Dr. Little generates an exceptional level of enthusiasm from his students from his desire to teach through circumstances and issues to which his students can relate in their daily lives.
In addition to “classroom learning,” Dr. Little’s talent for mentoring undergraduates and graduates in research methodology is simply remarkable. His undergraduate research program is the largest in both the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine—supporting up to 15 undergraduate students at a time in his laboratory. Despite such a high number, Dr. Little is very effective working with students simultaneously. For instance, beyond authorship on publications, Steve’s students have won numerous local and national honors for their work, such as the Brackenridge Fellowship, the George Washington Award, the American Society of Engineering CED Student of the Year Award, several Society for Biomaterials STAR Awards, The Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowships, The Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowships, the National Math and Science Initiative Young Leader Award, the Stifung Charite International Enterprise Competition, the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship, the NIH’s Ruth Kirschtein (F31) Award, Teaching Assistant of the Year Award (one of his students won this 3 years in a row!), and the AIChE Professional Promise Award. The list of student awards in the 6 years that he has been in Pittsburgh is truly remarkable.
Start-Up Entrepreneur Award
Presented by Pittsburgh Technology Council
The Start-Up Entrepreneur Award recognizes leadership in developing a promising innovation in an early-stage company.
Cohera Medical, Inc. is a Pittsburgh start-up whose initial core technology is a unique surgical adhesive developed by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Eric Beckman, PhD [http://mirm.pitt.edu/our-people/faculty-staff-bios/eric-beckman-phd/] and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh. Cohera has taken the basic technology and developed it’s “flag-ship” product “TissuGlu” Surgical Adhesive. Cohera Medical’s products are based on a unique chemical design that is resorbable, non-toxic, easy-to-use, and forms a strong bond between tissue layers. The Company’s lead product, “TissuGlu,” is designed to reduce fluid accumulation and the need for surgical drains in patients undergoing abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) and other plastic procedures that require the creation of large planar flaps of tissue. In 2011, Cohera Medical received the CE mark of approval of TissuGlu. CE Mark approval allows TissuGlu to be sold in the European Union, and the company began commercialization in Germany in the third quarter of 2011. This product has been used in about 500 surgical procedures. Cohera Medical is also actively pursuing U.S. FDA approval. Cohera Medical has seen rapid growth and is actively developing a line of surgical adhesives for use as bowel sealants, for hernia mesh fixation, and for small bone fixation.
The Cohera Medical platform technology in designed to serve the needs of surgeons in multiple disciplines, who have long sought a simple-to-use adhesive that is strong enough to hold tissues together yet is biocompatible and not associated with foreign body adverse tissue responses. The need is to hold tissues together to facilitate natural healing processes. The adhesive holds tissues together as the natural healing process occurs and is then resorbed by the body after degrading into harmless subcomponents. As an example, in the tummy tuck application, the adhesive secures planar flaps of tissue in order to reduce fluid accumulation in the wound following abdominoplasty, reducing the possibility of fluid accumulation and eliminating the need for drains.
Cohera Medical’s adhesive technology platform is developing solutions to clinical challenges faced by surgeons and their patients for which there are currently few options. The chemistry underlying the technology formulation is straightforward, proprietary, and offers the ability to create multiple product extensions.
Patrick Daly serves as the President and CEO of Cohera Medical. Mr. Daly has over 20 years of experience in medical device sales, marketing, international marketing, and leadership positions throughout the Johnson & Johnson organization, including Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Ethicon Products, J&J Medical Australia/New Zealand, J&J Medical Asia Pacific, and Cohera Medical, Inc. Within Johnson & Johnson, he held positions of increasing responsibility in marketing, international marketing, and sales. He successfully launched a surgical technology business in Australia and created and implemented the first-ever regulatory review of safety and efficacy of that new technology by the Australian Government.
University / Post-Secondary Student Award
Presented by Ansaldo STS USA
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.
Ms. Elaine Houston is a trainee of McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Rory Cooper, PhD [http://mirm.pitt.edu/our-people/faculty-staff-bios/rory-cooper-phd/]. Ms. Houston has committed countless hours and energy toward research projects in the University of Pittsburgh laboratory, including the Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA), a motorized wheeled appliance with robotic arms. As a graduate student in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science, Elaine is recognized as a committed student who extends her time to support STEM education through our Tech-Link LEGO Robotics Program. Elaine is their “Techno Wizard” and is the lead coach for teaching the team how to program robots, infusing positive advice, and motivating our team.
As a graduate student, Elaine has a full plate, yet she finds time to share engineering with youth through the Tech-Link program and is extremely supportive of every education and outreach effort we ask her to contribute toward. The greatest impact of her contribution is being able to model student excellence in a male-dominated career path while reaching back to support students in the STEM pipeline. Elaine has also been on the forefront of leadership as a student within the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science as a student representative on the education, outreach, and diversity team and as an officer in a newly formed student organization at Pitt, Students with Disabilities Advocates.
An example of Elaine’s contribution is her passion to help youth with disabilities embrace science. Elaine is a wheelchair user and models how students with disabilities can follow any dream, including being a scientist. The School’s Tech-Link program is open to students of all abilities and they have a weekly opportunity to see Techno Wizard Elaine in action.
Overall, Elaine contributes to the Pittsburgh community as a budding scientist, mentor, and activist.